The Seventh-day Adventist Church encourages a high standard of Christ-like behavior by believers.
You may have heard references to “church standards.” This means that the Seventh-day Adventist Church encourages a high standard of Christ-like behavior by believers. Obviously, sinners often fail to reach the high standard that they believe in, but that does not reduce our aspirations. The bottom line is that Christ Himself is the standard, and the goal of the Christian life is to grow up into the fullness of Christ.
The goal of the church is “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Eph. 4:12-16).1
Over the years, Adventists have come to agreement on 14 specific standards. These are described in the Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual. One of these 14 church standards is entitled, “Community Relationships.” It is not long. Here is the complete official text:
“While our ‘citizenship is in heaven; from whence also we wait for a Saviour’ (Phil. 3:20,
RV), we are yet in the world as an integral part of human society, and must share with our fellows certain responsibilities in the common problems of life. In every community where they live Seventh-day Adventists, as children of God, should be recognized as outstanding citizens in their Christian integrity and in working for the common good of all. While our highest responsibility is to the church and its commission to preach the gospel of the kingdom to all the world, we should support by our service and our means, as far as possible and consistent, all proper efforts for social order and betterment. Even though we must stand apart from all political and social strife, we should always, quietly and firmly, maintain an uncompromising stand for justice and right in civic affairs, along with strict adherence to our religious convictions. It is our sacred responsibility to be loyal citizens of the governments to which we belong, rendering ‘unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s’ (Matt. 22:21).”2
The Church Manual is voted by the highest authority within the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the General Conference in session, a meeting held once every five years. It can be changed only by that highest authority after years of careful Bible study and consultation all over the world. This chapter is of particular importance because it sets high standards for the church instead of dealing with practical items of organization.
What does this official text teach us?
- Seventh-day Adventists are “an integral part of human society” and “must share” with the rest of humanity “certain responsibilities in the common problems of life.” We are not to abstain or withdraw from the issues that confront society, such as poverty, HIV-AIDS, climate change, public health, etc. We are to take our fair share of responsibility for solving the problems of society just as everyone else should.
- Adventists are to be seen as “outstanding citizens . . . in every community” both because of our “Christian integrity” and because of our work “for the common good.” The emphasis on “integrity” means we are to tell the truth, deal honestly with others, and be fair with everyone, whether or not it is popular or advantageous to us. “Working for the common good” refers to the additional expectation that we will make a contribution to community needs and development.
- Adventists are to be involved in community service. “Support by our service and our means” refers to giving time and money to serving the community outside the church and its goals for evangelism and growth. “All proper efforts for social order and betterment” include a wide range of social services, education, health care, and community development activities. Adventist involvement in the community ought to be pragmatic, taking any necessary form that is not immoral or unjust.
- Adventists are to “stand apart from all political and social strife.” We have a “peace church” heritage and must never engage in violence or the manipulation of crowds, or support such activities. They are always wrong. At the same time, we must “maintain an uncompromising stand for justice and right in civic affairs.” Social justice is important to God, and we must never let down that standard by permitting discrimination against people because of race or ethnicity, social standing, education, gender, religion, political party, poverty or wealth, language, or any of the other reasons human beings often deny one another equal standing in law and in the community. Of course, those who are fairly convicted of crime must suffer the consequences—we do not support lawlessness—but we must always protect the rights of all persons, including the prisoner. Our stand for the right must be “uncompromising.” It is wrong to assent to injustice or discrimination through silence.
- Adventists are to participate in the civic affairs of the community and nation where they live or have citizenship. God expects this of us. “It is our sacred responsibility to be loyal citizens.” This means, in a democracy, that we must register and vote. The church does not take a position on the election of individuals to office. Adventist ministers are prohibited from making a public statement of who to vote for, and members of the church are not to bring campaigning into the life of the church. Nonetheless members are expected to educate themselves on the issues and make a decision about whom to support, register to vote, and go to the polls on election day and cast a ballot.3