Why I Don’t Want to Be a “Historic” Adventist

“I miss the good ol’ days of the church.”

“I wish we could go back to the way things were.”

Image © The Classic Bible Art Collection –Formerly Standard Publishing from GoodSalt.com

“I want my church back!”

Chances are, if you are an Adventist, you have run into phrases like this. In fact, you may even have said them. In my early twenties I went through this “the church is lost” phase where I looked at anything new, different or innovative with suspicion. In my mind, all the churches were going down the path to perdition. If only we could shape up and go back to the way things were – the days when the church was solid, committed and righteous.

In my head, I thought these feelings were evidence of my faithfulness to God. I interpreted my commitment to the church’s past era as a sign of my allegiance to all that is holy and good. Those who disagreed were – well – deceived. But little did I know that I was actually caught up in the sin of idolatry.

In the book of Numbers, we encounter Israel traveling through the desert. But there are no Instagram stories for this journey. Instead, there is a whole lot of moaning, protesting and criticizing of God and Moses. As a result of their whining, the story says, “So the Lord sent poisonous snakes among the people, and many were bitten and died.” (Numbers 21:6)

As the people were dying, God sent the following instructions to Moses: “Make a replica of a poisonous snake and attach it to a pole. All who are bitten will live if they simply look at it!” (Numbers 21:8)

The story is simple. The people are dying from the snake bites. God provides a solution for them. That solution is a bronze snake (Numbers 21:9) attached to a pole. Whoever looks at it will live. The serpent was not magical. It healed only through the miraculous power of God. Thus, in a broad sense the serpent represented God’s continued blessing and presence with his rebellious people.

Fast forward about 700 years and the Israelite King Hezekiah goes on a campaign to purge the land of idols. As he sweeps across on his righteous crusade, something interesting takes place. 2 Kings 18:4 has the story:

He removed the pagan shrines, smashed the sacred pillars, and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke up the bronze serpent that Moses had made…

Pause. Let that sink in. Hezekiah destroyed “the bronze serpent Moses had made.” This invites the question, How dare he? Didn’t Hezekiah know that this bronze serpent represented God’s continued blessing and presence with his people? Hadn’t he read his Bible? That through this serpent God had healed rebellious Israelites and given them a second chance? Did Hezekiah have no respect for the history of his people? No regard for God’s past dealings with his chosen nation? Why would Hezekiah desecrate such a valuable piece of history? Why would he dishonour such a rich icon, over 700 years old, that stood as a testament of God’s past acts? 

The answer is very simple. Just keep reading the text:

…because the people of Israel had been offering sacrifices to it. The bronze serpent was called Nehushtan.

In other words, that which once stood as a symbol of God’s continued blessing and presence with his people had become an idol – an object of pagan idolatry and false worship. The implication is a clear one: Even the good things God has done in our past history can be perverted into objects of idolatry. Even a blessing can be twisted into a curse.

I am not the kind of guy who thinks the church should just blindly accept every new thing just for the sake of it. Neither am I an anti-traditionalist. I think traditions are good, meaningful and necessary. However, I don’t venerate them as though they were God himself. And to be honest, I do think some of us do. While some try and defend their allegiance to tradition with a cloak of faithfulness to God, I fear that often times our refusal to evolve and adapt is rooted in our idolatry of a past era. We worship the church of yesteryear as though it is our Saviour. We idolize the ways of our forefathers as though they are our standard. We venerate, adulate and exalt the former ways as though God is not here today, right now, in this new generation doing a new thing. Like the Israelites we take that which was once a blessing of God and turn it into a curse.

About four years ago my wife and I were scolded because we dared to suggest that, due to the patterns of life in our current generation, a church that gathered in the afternoon instead of the morning might actually be a neat thing to try. The person who scolded us used all the same arguments. “This is how we have always done it.” “The church doesn’t need to change.” “You guys are going to lead the church astray.” And so on and so forth. We gently challenged the idea by appealing to two facts. First, the morning gathering is not mandated in scripture. It’s just a thing we have always done. Second, we are not changing anything other than the hour we gather. There is nothing holier about 11 AM as opposed to 3 PM, and a later service may open doors to reach people who could never attend a morning service. For example, there are more people working night shift today than ever before which means there are millions who are not even awake at 11 AM on Sabbath because they only got to bed at 6 or 7 AM that very morning. A huge part of our population is therefore missed by our refusal to adapt. The morning service may have been a blessing in the past but, if clung to religiously, it can become an idol and a missional curse in the present).1

Ed Stetzer said it best, “If your church loves a past era more than its current mission it loves the wrong thing.”

I couldn’t agree more. And while this might be a bit rough, allow me to speak freely. I often run into this idea of “Historic Adventism” being some sort of pure Adventism that can be found by going back to a certain era (pioneers for some, 1950’s for others). The idea is that the way the church was then represents the best of who we have ever been and if we want to be pure again, we have to go back there. But to be honest, I am always confused by people who say they are “Historic Adventists”2 as though adhering to a past era is a test of faithfulness. I’m not interested in being a “historic” Adventist. I’m not even interested in being a contemporary Adventist. I want to be a biblical Adventist. 

Being biblical means I can be in the here and now, interact with the world I live in and speak life to contemporary reality while still being one with Jesus. I can keep my eyes focused on the mission he has called me to be a part of instead of day-dreaming about the past or having nostalgic fantasies of a bygone generation. To such who feel this way, may I remind us that the church is a living organism, not a museum.

So here is my challenge today. Don’t idolize bygone generations. God has led us in the past, yes. He has blessed our efforts in the past, yes. He has done awesome things through us in the past, yes. And we can learn tons from our past. But we must not revere it. God is here today, in the here and now, and he is doing a new thing. Let’s be a part of that. Let’s add to the legacy our fathers started. Let’s honour them by building on what they left rather than trying to mimic them. Our God is a living God. A here God. A now God. And if we have been idolizing the past, then like Hezekiah did to that bronze serpent, its time we break those idols no matter how beautiful they might once have been.

Note: This article was originally published at thestorychurchproject.com. It has been republished here with permission.

  1. Research in the UK has “has found that between 2007 and 2017, the number of retail workers working nights as their main shift pattern has gone up 50%” See https://www.bbc.com/news/business-44938829 for more
  2. The term “historic Adventist” means different things to different people and is often used pejoratively. For my purposes, I am defining the term culturally to refer to the idea that there was a golden era in Adventism in which the church was purer and holier than it is now. I am also using the term in a non-pejorative sense. For more on this definition of Historic Adventism see: https://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/1993/10/essential-adventism-or-historic-adventism


Why I Don’t Want to Be a “Historic” Adventist — 28 Comments

  1. AMEN!!! Well said. I think that a church that refuses to adapt to the times and situations we are living in, while still maintaining the Biblical truths, has difficulties surviving and loses people that are surviving in today’s world, especially young people. Wake up churches!

  2. Well said Marcos, I totally disagree with your perception. Sabbath worship time should not be based on historic events but should be Biblical. In the book of Genesis, after creation God sanctified the seventh day- 24 hours.Therefore the whole day is dedicated for worship not man to choose. Why would man want to fix his own time while God Himself gave direction by resting on sabbath?

    How do you go to work on sabbath.This is from your example, "there are more people working night shift today than ever before which means there are millions who are not even awake at 11 AM on Sabbath because they only got to bed at 6 or 7 AM that very morning".

    • I think you are missing the point of what's being said. He's not talking about changing the Sabbath, he's talking about changing the time for corporate worship. The Sabbath lasts all day long, not just in the morning. And yes, there are people who work on Friday nights for various reasons: some are nurses or doctors who must be on call for their patients. And some don't even know about the Sabbath yet, but are interested in coming to church and are halted by their work schedule. It's just a different way to provide an opportunity for everyone to fellowship and worship God together.

  3. How do you work on Sabbath how do you only arrive from early hours of sabbath morning. I mean how to you publish this article. Remember the Sabbath please. Change is good but it should never be for your selfish reasons

  4. "[W]e have nothing to fear for the future, except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history."--"Life Sketches," p. 196.

    History is one way that we come to know God and His love and concern for humanity, His hatred of sin and its results, His way of showing mercy to thousands who love Him and keep His commandments, but who in nowise excuse sin.

    We are counseled to rehearse our past history so that we never forget the purpose for which the Lord raised up this remnant church, so that we never forget "our position and work" before God and before the world.

    True, we should be as Paul who said of himself that he had become all things to all men that by any means he may save some. He was adaptable in the sight of the Lord, being true to God, first, but being relatable to the people, secondly. However, we should not forget his undying regard and love for his own people (cultural, religious, historical). He was to his death a "Hebrew of the Hebrews" being true its historical, religious, and cultural heritage, while making it clear in his teachings that those things that belonged to the old covenant (rites and methods - established of God - that were a "shadow of things to come") were passing away. Yet, in his last journey to Jerusalem, it is clear that he still observed the feast of Passover, even the rites of purification.

    Although our methods may/should be adaptable to the people and culture to whom we minister, we should never abandon our core values, our culture, and especially our religious teachings.

  5. How can it be that a Friday nightsift can be ok even to the point of moving Sabbath school and devine service to the afternoon. This disturbs me.I am disturbed at the thought that the borders of the Sabbath are no longer observed.

    • I'm sure Marcos will explain himself, but I don't see that he wrote that Friday night shift is "ok" for Seventh-day Adventists. On the other hand some church members, such as nurses, do have to perform necessary services 24/7, including Friday nights. Consider what it would mean for patients if no doctors or nurses looked after them on the Sabbath.

  6. ..."For example, there are more people working night shift today than ever before which means there are millions who are not even awake at 11 AM on Sabbath because they only got to bed at 6 or 7 AM that very morning...."
    Is this advocating allowing for people working on Sabbath?

    • I don't thinks it's advocating anything other than having a church service that those people could come to. However, I'm sure we all know Adventists who work in the medical field.

      • I am a Nurse and I have to work nigh shifts. It does bother me a lot that, after working Friday night, leaving work at 7 on Sabbath morning I cannot attend service, because I would only sleep throughout the service. Yes, I have the option of attending Bible Class and AY, but it is not the same. One church I attended previously, held Sunday meetings at 6a.m. two Sundays of each month because persons would not come out, after doing back to school/work preparations all day. Needless to say, those Sunday morning worship services were well supported and very spiritual. We have to look at the whole picture here. Mr. Torres is not suggesting that worship time on Sabbaths be changed to allow people to work on Sabbaths. Seventh-Day Adventists who work in essential services already work on Sabbaths. Would you sit more comfortably to have those persons miss out on worship services then?

        • Setting a time for worship is always difficult because in our day no time is right for everyone. So the worship hour to me is less an old tradition but necessary for the majority. Especially with children who have a school routine during the week. So I would not put the issue of worship time as an antiquated ritual, but if there are laymen, elders or deacons who have the burden, they can begin a worship for those with odd hours. Pastors have families too and I believe we layman can help. (I am not a part of the paid church, just a convert too). I feel for the sacrifice of medical people but we cannot set worship time for them for the corporate body. Yes, a special time for those few. There are many churches now with afternoon hours but for most the attendance is dismal because families with children find it difficult. I thank all medical people and other first responders for their service because it is a sacrifice.

  7. "Faith of our fathers, living still
    In spite of dungeon, fire and sword,
    How sweet will be their children's fate, if they like them should die for Thee"

    As we reflect on the faith of Abraham and the other Patriarchs and Prophets, as we continue to delve on the mysteries of God's power and revelation in Sister White's "Great Controversy" (we are reading this book every Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting-London Edmonton SDA Church), we know that there is enough tradition to fill our spiritual tummies and with that Holy Spirit-inspired satiation and energy, we can just unite as children (there is a child amongst us as we study "The Great Controversy") as youth, as young adults and as older adults and move forward with innovative ideas, keeping in focus, God's aim for His people: " The Gospel Message to all the world in this generation"
    Let us instead of holding on to church tradition, remember how He has led His church in the past-the Patriarch's and Prophets, the first century Christians, the brothers and sisters in 1844 and onwards and say with Sister Ellen G.White, " we are overwhelmed that this God, Who has led us in the past will continue to work in and through us both to do and to will of His good pleasure until He bursts the clouds of heaven to take us home.
    There is enough to focus on in the (1)Bible, and to remember as we read the (2)holy inspired writings of Sister White (Steps to Christ, Patriarchs and Prophets, Great Controversy, etc... etc) so that we have time only to plan new ways (as the Holy Spirit leads) to continue with this mission mandate. He is good and He will complete what He has started.
    Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus, Come.
    Thank you my brother for your article-I can only humbly say that it was inspired by the Holy Spirit Himself.

  8. Marcos please clarify on the issue above. You have left most of us in suspense as you can see from the above questions

    • What needs clarifying? Some people work nights and it would be good if there were services that were accessible for them.

      This inability to think even slightly out of the box is exactly why the article is needed.

  9. Thank you for all your comments everyone! It is good to see that you all are reading and wrestling with the article.

    As the author of the article I would like to offer some clarifications. However, let me start by saying that I am surprised any clarification is needed as the article itself was clear enough but allow me to explain anyhow.

    1) The first objection that I am seeing is people suggesting that I said it is OK to work on the Sabbath. If you read through the article, you will find that I never said such a thing. The point that I made is that more people (in general/ in western society) are working night shift than ever before. I never said Adventists should work on Sabbath or anything of the sort. Honestly, I am so surprised by these comments I am having a hard time formulating a response. The point is that as night shift workers increase it may be a good idea to create a gathering that enables the church to connect with them at a time when they are awake. For example, one of my churches recently held a "Visitors Day" where the members invited their friends and coworkers to a special service on Sabbath. However, they were only able to invite those friends who had not worked a night shift the night before. Anyone who had was left out. Creating a worship gathering that can connect with people who work night shifts is an important conversation to have.

    2) I never said we should change the Sabbath worship service either. The 11 AM service works for many people and there is no sense in changing it and it is not what I was advocating for either. What I was saying is that it may be a good idea to start something new for people who cant connect with what we have always done.

    An afternoon Sabbath service may be a blessing to Adventists in the medical field who worked the night before, but the main point is that it can be a blessing for people who are not Adventist at all. When reading comments opposing this I almost wonder if the commenters believe church is only for those who are already saved. The church is there to reach the lost and that means that its not designed for our comfort its designed for their salvation. Remember, Jesus did not come for the healthy or the righteous but to call sinners to repentance.

    3) The other objection I am seeing is the idea that we should always look to our past to guide our future. But this is not an objection at all. Its exactly what I said in the article. We can learn from our past. It can guide us. But we must never revere what God has done in the past to the point that we worship "it" instead of "Him". God is here today and he is doing a new thing and we need to be open to His Spirits leading. Gaining wisdom from our past is important. Worshiping it like the Israelites worshiped the bronze serpent is a sin. Here are some quotes from Ellen White that may be of help.

    New methods must be introduced. God’s people must awake to the necessities of the time in which they are living. God has men whom He will call into His service,—men who will not carry forward the work in the lifeless way in which it has been carried forward in the past.... {Ev 70.1}

    Let us not forget that different methods are to be employed to save different ones. {Ev 106.2}

    Different methods of labor are really essential in sowing the seeds of truth and gathering in the harvest. {TM 251.1}

    Whatever may have been your former practice, it is not necessary to repeat it again and again in the same way. God would have new and untried methods followed. Break in upon the people—surprise them. {Ev 125.4}

    Some of the methods used in this work will be different from the methods used in the work in the past; but let no one, because of this, block the way by criticism. {Ev 105.2}

    I hope these clarifications help.


    • Dear Brother Marcos,

      Thank you so much for allowing the Holy Spirit to inspire you to share this article and your responds to the comments. The article was very clear! As Adventist, I believe we don't realize that our Sabbath services can be a prime time for evangelism if services are held at times when people can attend! Why do we have to limit ourselves to morning services only? If a church can have a morning and afternoon service, if that works for that area, why not do it? And by the way, you may have a lot of Seventh-Day Adventist, who don't work the night shift, but who may appreciate the opportunity to spend Sabbath morning at home with their families before coming to church. Next week, our church is launching a monthly Sabbath afternoon Sabbath School Class (3:30pm), as an alternative to those who don't come to the Sabbath morning class.

  10. I find this article very fascinating as it is relevant to the history of our church in Alexandria, Virginia, Community Praise Adventist Church. Over twenty years ago, our church suffered a catastrophic event when our pastor left the Adventist faith with half the congregation with him, leaving less than fifty of us to continue. Our new pastor, Pastor Henry Wright organized the church in such a way that we became a welcoming friendly church where both members and visitors feel at home, and today our membership is well over a thousand. Even after the popular Pastor Wright left, because our church is run like a family, it continues to thrive.

    Over the years, some have criticized us for our upbeat music, collecting tithe and offering at the end of the service, and spending time and money on extracurricular activities for our youth. However, instead of being deterrents, these moves have helped us to maintain a spirit-filled family oriented Bible based church which welcomes people from West Virginia, West Indies and West Africa in the same manner, knowing that in heaven, there will be diversity.

  11. Peace to you brother Marcos,

    I believe there are very few truths to what you are saying in embracing new methods in reaching out and engaging our generation that they could be a good thing. Jesus Christ used the most revolutionary way of reaching out and using new method in reaching out the simple,noble not by compromising the established order in God's work but a better and more elevated spirituality without the help of theology but using God's Power and THe WORD OF GOD and the Holy Spirit of God the Father. What we are doing in our generation is contrary to what Jesus Christ have done if he was a man in the old times. He is alive better now than in his human nature close to all of us in a better way, through HIS HOLY SPIRIT.Our SDA church leadership is working direct opposition to God's work and contrary to God's word in its moda operandi. However, to compare the idolatry of the rebellious Israelites and our pioneers is a heresy. You may never have read their life and writings. As from my readings their life and writings they were the most blessed church even the Apostolic times despite their struggles of the enemy using men and women to destroy them as a people. You seem to be happy what the present leadership and its corporate apparatus doing to the mission and gospel of The Lord Jesus Christ Church-SDA Church.When the Present SDA Church is way far idolatrous than the Israelites you abohar in its beliefs and works. History of fallen churches is fulfilled to the our poor and blind church. I believe you deserve a warning and a rebuke because you are misleading and deceiving people unaware those who might think any new way or your examples are some how the best than the established or morning time. My point is all new ways are not right but there is a WAY that will and should not be changed. It is to be lead by the WORD OF GOD and HIS HOLY SPIRIT that will not contradict and confuse the mind of any sincere human who wants to believe the truth that we are given in the HOLY SCRIPTURES which are always in opposition to the carnal mind and the world.

    • Hi Zecharias, thank you for your reply. I think you have misunderstood the message of the article. You said, "to compare the idolatry of the rebellious Israelites and our pioneers is a heresy." Problem is, I never did that. Not once in the article did I say or even remotely insinuate that the historic work of our pioneers is akin to the idolatry of rebellious Israel. What I did say is that what the story of the bronze serpent teaches us is that it is possible to turn something God has done for us in the past into an idol and that today, if we cling to the things we have always done in the past simply because God has blessed them, that we are guilty of worshiping what God has done and not God himself and that is idolatry. And just so you know, I have read their life and writings and I too find our pioneers to be some of the most amazing heroes of the faith. But I never said anything against the pioneers.

      From that point you shared some other things which I struggled to understand your point. But overall, your statement that all new ways are not right is one I said myself in the article - so maybe you missed it? I explicitly stated that I don't believe the church should embrace every new thing. So we are in agreement. My point is that we should not cling to the past as though God is not here today doing a new thing because he is.

  12. I like this article. Thank you Marcus. To those who question the statement about working on the Sabbath, might I also remind you that the Pharisees also accused Jesus of doing that said thing? I believe that our main counsel comes from the Word of God - the Bible, as we know it. Therein, we read where Jesus chastised those who criticized the act of rendering help to the needy because it was Sabbath. There are far too many examples of instances where that happened for us to still think that a doctor or a nurse should endeavour not to be at work during Sabbath hours. Not to be specific only to the medical profession, but if a psychiatrist gets a call from a patient 5 minutes before sunset on a Friday, should it not be answered the same way?

    • Please don't confuse the issue. There is a huge difference between doing your business on Sabbath and caring for the sick - both physical and spiritual. There is a huge difference between evangelizing the community and caring for the fold. The days are gone were people go to large public evangelistic events. To have a church service in the hope to reach the unreached is futile unless the visitors are there through personal invetation

  13. I reread Marcos’ article trying to figure out how people could read Sabbath breaking into it because it referenced shift workers. Medical services are not the only industry that require shift workers in our modern society. We thoughtlessly turn on the lights, heating and cooling appliances (e.g., furnaces and refrigerators), use water and flush toilets, not thinking that these essential services have to be provided on a 24 hour basis. Police and fire services, snow clearing can be added to the list, as well. I can think of many more, but I believe those listed make the point that there are many persons who work on shifts that are deprived of the benefit of assembling together with other believers in worship because of the hard and fast “rule” of morning worship services. I commend Marcos’ church for considering the needs of these persons.

  14. I was so interested by this discussion. So many thought this was an article about changing the time of worship! I think it was about being willing to adapt in ways that are not forbidden in the Bible, to reach the lost. We could insert the issue of the guitar in worship, how some traditionalists whom I have heard say is sinful simply based on the fact that it wasn't done in the past. Rigid attitudes that label as sinful any harmless adaptation and/or necessary growth hurt the church.

    • Thank you Larry! I do find it interesting that most people got caught up in what was simply meant to be an example illustrating a larger point. The article was not about the time of worship at all, it was about worshipping the past vs worshipping God. So thank you for pointing that out!

  15. Interesting article and comments. As a senior and longtime member, I admittedly struggle with some of the changes in the church. But, most of my struggle is because I LIKE the old ways which I find familiar, comforting and meaningful. However, church is not my personal possession designed for my own worship preference. I am still perfectly able to keep any of the traditions I love, "edges of the Sabbath", old hymns, etc. in my own home. To my contemporaries who complain, my response is usually, "Would you change worship time, or loud music or anything you don't like if it brought your child back to church, or mine?" As the young folks say- Crickets!!


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