Where I spray-paint my thoughts…

Searching Sabbath 22: Christian Behavior


I’ll admit, this week’s video is long. But I hope you have seven-plus minutes to watch it, because there’s a lot in there. And, of course, there could be a lot more. If you want to see something long, take a look at the text of this actual SDA belief, #22:

We are called to be a godly people who think, feel, and act in harmony with the principles of heaven. For the Spirit to recreate in us the character of our Lord we involve ourselves only in those things which will produce Christlike purity, health, and joy in our lives. This means that our amusement and entertainment should meet the highest standards of Christian taste and beauty. While recognizing cultural differences, our dress is to be simple, modest, and neat, befitting those whose true beauty does not consist of outward adornment but in the imperishable ornament of a gentle and quiet spirit. It also means that because our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit, we are to care for them intelligently. Along with adequate exercise and rest, we are to adopt the most healthful diet possible and abstain from the unclean foods identified in the Scriptures. Since alcoholic beverages, tobacco, and the irresponsible use of drugs and narcotics are harmful to our bodies, we are to abstain from them as well. Instead, we are to engage in whatever brings our thoughts and bodies into the discipline of Christ, who desires our wholesomeness, joy, and goodness.

For a surprising number of Seventh-day Adventists, and even more former Adventists, this doctrine IS Seventh-day Adventism. Forget the 21 statements that led up to it and the 6 to come; for some people, their entire experience of being a Seventh-day Adventist has centred around being expected to live up to a fairly rigid code of behavior. And for many former Adventists, this code — or the way in which it was applied, or the way in which they were judged for not keeping it — was the reason they left. We are not entirely innocent of the accusation that though we teach righteousness by faith, we often act as if we’re saved by works — and often a collection of works that are quite obscure even among conservative Christians, such as not piercing your ears or not eating meat.

Adventist and ex-Adventist subculture is dominated by discussions over these things, and there’s a lot more I could have said here, so that even getting it down to 7+ minutes was a challenge. I’ve tried to hit on two key points in the video: 1) all of these rules sprang originally from deeply-felt and very worthy principles developed by our Adventist pioneers, but turning a principle into a rule and handing it down to the next generation is a tricky business, and 2) I do believe that as a Christian, while our works do not save us, how we live matters … but I’m sorry that our focus here is so much on personal purity and so little on our behavior as it relates to social issues. (This is true to such a great extent that the one traditionally Adventist position that advocates social justice — our pacifism and refusal to serve in combat positions in the military, is not even mentioned in this statement of belief or in the book Seventh-day Adventists Believe…, and I think that omission, and the general disregard of that traditional teaching, is a terrible thing … but again, that’s something I didn’t have time to touch on in the video).

There is so much more that could be said here in terms of the specific teachings about behavior, the principles underlying them, and how we interpret them — but as usual I think I’ll leave this open to comments and see if anyone is interested in discussing it further. I hope so!


7 thoughts on “Searching Sabbath 22: Christian Behavior

  1. Fabulous and I KNOW you could have shared sooooo much more…..I loved the part about where our focus is. I heard in a sermon I listened to just a little while ago that for every one sermon on doctrine there should be 4 on reflecting God’s character in our everyday life and to others……Thanks Trudy….

    • So true, Janet, about the 4/1 ratio (or even more). I also think fewer sermons should be directed towards telling people what they should DO and more towards addressing the needs people feel, with the truth of the gospel, i.e. addressing the fact that on any given Sabbath or Sunday morning, many people in a congregation will be experiencing loss, fear, anxiety, grief, guilt, pain … so many things, and need the assurance that God loves and will help them, rather than a lecture on what they should be doing.

  2. Good points! Jesus said of his disciples that people would know/recognize them by their love for each other and I want that to be what I live for. I love that you are THINKING about these things, not taking any as a matter-of-course or a simple rule to be obeyed rather than a principle to be applied and re-taught as a principle. Often these things (especially if guilt-induced) lead to a me-ism and a lack of focus on others because it feels like the end of the world if one fails to obey a “rule” in every single instance and it turns one into a hamster in a spinning wheel of rules-that-can’t-be-broken. A principle, however, can be personally interpreted and applied and can evolve through generations of changing culture – and leads to more secure, other-focused people.
    My .02. Thanks for the video.

    • Naomi, since you commented I’ll tell you a little story … some of my thoughts on rules vs principles stem from my teaching days when you and your sisters were in my classes. I remember looking at you Bible Believer girls in the long skirts and long hair, but with some nice tasteful gold jewellery, and the SDA girls in jeans and t-shirts but with no jewellery or makeup, and thinking, “Well, both these groups started out with the same basic principles about modest dress and outward adornment, but they’ve just chosen to focus on different rules.” (Of course, I thought the girls from both groups looked lovely and appropriately dressed!). It was one of the things that got me thinking about how we take the broad principles of Scripture and turn them into rules that become very culturally ingrained.

  3. I really don’t have no problem with the ideals set forth in this particular belief. However, I do have a BIG problem with the way we present all of these standards as 100% Biblical.

    Where, for instance, is the verse prohibiting the use of tobacco? How about the verse prohibiting alcohol? There are a lot of verses warning of the dangers of getting drunk, but wine and strong drink were only prohibited if you were a Nazirite. Let me be clear: I think smoking is foul and do not recommend that anyone consumes alcohol, but it is dishonest to present these activites as Biblically defined sins.

    Ditto for jewlery. The offical position as stated in the Church Manual is that the wearing of jewelry is “against the will of God”. Again, where is the verse that specifically says that? Right now, the pastor of a local church is refusing to allow someone to join by profession of faith because she wears a gold cross. However, if she wore a wedding ring, there would be no problem. Things like this is why, although I still attend an SDA church, I will not identify myself as a Seventh-day Adventist.

    I think you are absolutely spot on when you said that many of these rules of behavoiur were based on principles early Adventists held dear. Unfortunately, the rules were handed down instead of the underlying principles, placing us in the untenable position of trying to apply rules from the 1800s to 21st century life.

    Also Ellen White, the source of many of these “rules”, was a product of her time. When I was younger, I used to tremble in fear when I picked up a novel because I had been told that the reading of fiction makes one unfit for heaven. (But that fear never stopped me from reading a good book!) Later, I learned that LOTS of people in the1800s decried fiction as a corrupting influence. Maybe, just maybe, EGW jumped on the anti-novel bandwagon from her own personal conviction. After all, Jesus himself told fictional stories – just read the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.

    I agree with you that our focus is all wrong. We’re far too concerned about dress and diet and whether or not it’s okay to go to a cinema and not nearly concerned enough about living a life that reflects the eternal principles of God’s kingdom. “What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them” (Matt.15:11).

    • All very good points, Sharon, especially about Scriptural foundation. The basic principles are all well-supported in Scripture (like the idea that the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, or that inner beauty is more valuable than outer adornment) but often the specific rules aren’t and it’s misleading to teach people that they are.

      The example of alcohol is good one: I have seen people really tie themselves into exegetical knots trying to prove that drinking alcohol is forbidden in the Bible, and really, it’s pretty clear that it isn’t — only drunkenness is. One day I was talking with a Salvation Army officer about the history of alcoholism in her family and she said, “It’s one of the reasons I’m so glad to belong to a church that grew out of the temperance movement.” I thought that was a much more sane way of looking at it — rather than trying to prove that nobody drank wine in the Bible, embrace the fact (if you are an Adventist, or SA, or member of any of the “temperance” churches) that your church has chosen to embrace the Biblical principle of keeping a clear and sober mind, by taking their place as part of a tradition that avoids alcohol altogether.

      I think as Adventists in our eagerness to prove that we are firmly based on the Bible, we sometimes try to make the Bible say things that it doesn’t actually say.

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