The Seventh Day Adventist Church (SDA) has some unique differences in God's doctrines and beliefs compared to other mainstream Christian denominations.
This has caused them to be on the fringe of the Christian and church scene, and even be labelled as a cult or fanatics, whereas in actual fact they are a genuine Christian fellowship.
What makes this more personal to myself at the moment, is that God has led me to a Seventh Day Adventist church in Mansfield Woodhouse to regularly fellowship as a Christian in a move back to the Derbyshire area.
I am not actually a Seventh-day Adventist based upon membership, but I know that God has led me to this particular fellowship.
This journey began in 2017 when I realised the importance of keeping the Sabbath day as a day of rest and on a Saturday rather than a Sunday and the belief of former Reformers like Martin Luther of the Historicism method of interpreting Bible prophecy. This leads to the understanding that the Papacy and Catholicism is the anti-Christ kingdom referred to in Daniel and Revelation (check out Daniel's study here).
And as you look into things further, you can see that a lot of Seventh-Day Adventists beliefs actually stem back to older periods of Christianity anyway, in particular the Reformation and Methodism, and therefore to some degree they have kept alive certain truths from days gone by rather than re-invented the wheel so to speak.
Although the church's unusual doctrines have been difficult to appreciate fully, I haven’t yet come across anything that is a definite no; even if still work in progress in terms of understanding.
I have also come to appreciate an overview of these differences, which I can now visualise as 5 core ones all beginning with the letter S.
And to make it even easier to remember, they can match with the five fingers on your hand, with even the type of fingers and their function aligned to what that particular issue is all about.
Doctrinal Truth, Not Church Style
These are all about what the doctrinal believes are of the church and their understanding of God, His Word and His ways are. You can check them all out here straight from the SDA website, which of course includes those ‘easier’ ones to grasp which are part-and-parcel of many other Christian denomination beliefs.
There are also two excellent YouTube videos from someone having an independent view of the denomination, the first one more about the style of services and gatherings, the second more on their doctrine. There is also another good one here, although missing a few of the core beliefs.
There is also a YouTube video from popular bible teacher David Pawson who acknowledges that they are a genuine denomination even though he does not believe in all their unique doctrines.
The idea here is to bring out the differences and make them as a clear-cut top-five.
However, to clarify that these are not to do with the denomination and church's actual style or ways, their core beliefs are in God. There will be different styles of service and ways of any church, but they can still be believing the same things and simply expressing in different ways.
So as an example, communion services are on regular three-monthly cycle at SDA churches, and where people also literally wash each other’s feet at the same time. This will sound strange if you’re not used to it, but underneath all of that, it’s the same communion-doctrine as other Christian churches.
Another unique service style has a Sabbath School every week before the main service; however, this is not a difference of doctrine.
So here goes, the 5 unique doctrines of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, all beginning with the letter 's' and linked to the fingers on your hand:
1. Sabbath (the Middle Finger)
The most obvious one is the tall middle finger of the hand - treating Saturday, not Sunday as the weekly Sabbath rest where church services and gatherings are held.
The seventh day of the week is actually a Saturday, which most Christian denominations do in actual fact accept and which Jews also still adhere to. Therefore, it’s taken literally with Seventh-day Adventists, as God has prescribed in one of the Ten Commandments.
Other denominations focusing on Sundays tend to fall into two camps. The first believe that the day was changed from a Saturday to a Sunday by Christ and the early disciples after Easter Sunday and Christ’s resurrection, with suggestions in scripture of first-day gatherings.
The second says that no Sabbath is applicable now anyway, no matter whether a Saturday or a Sunday because Christ has fulfilled that part of the law, with reference to an eternal rest in-Christ and not needing to observe such customs.
God has actually revealed to me personally how important this Sabbath day rest is, and on the correct day of Saturday. It’s something that God ordained back from creation, was there before the formal Ten Commandments and Israelites anyway, and will even be there in heaven. Christ also came to fulfil the moral law, not change it.
Also, taking a step further, this links to the Second Coming point below and how a system will be against God’s Kingdom and believers, with Seventh-day Adventists believing that this Sabbath-principle will bring things to a head at the end of time (see a related post here).
2. Second Coming (the Little Finger)
Seventh-day Adventists take the Second Coming of Christ seriously and focus on biblical prophecies in scripture which help identify what clues and forces to look out for as we get nearer this time, particularly in the books of Daniel and Revelation.
This actually stems from the Reformers and big-hitters like Martin Luther to the later John Wesley, who basically held the same beliefs, although with further details now to align with Revelation.
It takes what they call a historicism approach to interpreting these prophecies, i.e. it is unfolding over time in the past, now, and into the future, indicating who the anti-Christ actually is right now.
This led me to the Seventh Day Adventist church in 2017 and the 500th celebration of the Reformation. In short, the Papacy and Catholicism are believed to be the force actually against Christ and His kingdom, something I was shocked to hear for the first time. Still, once you see this referred to in biblical prophecy, then it actually makes sense.
And yet all other denominations are not only either oblivious to this or ignoring it, but literally signing up now in doctrinal agreement with the Roman Catholic Church.
I appreciate that this can offend if it is not realised that this is regarding this system's beliefs, with a post here to help clarify this and highlight the doctrinal differences with traditional Protestant faith.
If you go deeper into the whole end-times debate, then the SDA basically believe that the hard-times of the tribulation at the end of time will be experienced by Christians rather than some secret rapture out of the trouble to heaven, and the Millennium of 1,000 years afterwards will be in heaven for believers not on earth.
Although I always thought little of all this until 2017, with the take that at the end of the day it is what it is, the more I’ve looked into things then, the more I’ve realised that we do need to know these end-times eschatological points to be prepared for Christ’s Coming.
After all, that’s why Christ has given us biblical prophecy to help us. And Scripture clearly says that the devil will be coming up with impressive signs and wonders to deceive people in these last days, and to be ready to walk in obedience and overcome by the faith of Christ.
3. State of the Dead (the Pinky Finger)
This is to do with what happens to people when they die, and whether they go straight to heaven or hell.
The usual assumptions within mainstream Christianity nowadays are to assume that people go immediately to one of these places; however, when looking closely into this, you see that we go to ‘sleep’ and stay on hold as it were until certain resurrections in the future.
The first resurrection is when Christ returns to earth and true believers awake and join Christ literally in the sky. The second is when the unsaved arise and face God’s judgment.
This is all based upon the truth that humans are not automatically immortal and live forever. The devil started promising this immortality-state to Adam and Eve back in the Garden of Eden, whereas, in reality, the curse of sin is death - everlasting life is only then given as a gift through Christ.
Therefore, those saved will live forever at this first resurrection. In contrast, those who don’t will eventually end up being annihilated after an experience of hell and punishment of their sins without Christ. Hell is therefore not an eternal punishment that literally never ends, but rather the consequences of it being everlasting and the end-goal of final death and destruction.
So bottom line; no one goes to heaven or hell straight away (apart from occasional ones like the 24 elders who do go straight to heaven), and hell is not this eternal torment belief that never ends.
Although this may sound unusual according to mainstream Christianity today, scripture and all the old great Christian founders and Protestant Reformers like Martin Luther are backed up by scripture. Plus, this is considered through doctrines like Annihilation with no ongoing eternal punishment even within mainstream Christianity.
For myself, I instinctively always thought that this was the case but always defaulted to the mainstream view, not helped by stories of people apparently visiting heaven and hell and coming back to life. When I saw this perspective, it was like a weight lifted off my shoulders, and the penny soon dropped when I saw the reference in Scripture.
4. Spirit of Prophecy (the Pointing Finger)
This is all to do with the Holy Spirit’s anointing and lead of people to reveal God's things and prophecies.
It’s specifically mentioned in Revelation, and it’s when the Holy Spirit genuinely leads people as opposed to false manifestations and manipulations of Satan and his demons.
I found this something straight forward in principle, but when looking into the detail, it began to get complicated. The Holy Spirit brings good fruit in people’s lives and gifts in the bible, such as healings and words of wisdom. But Satan also has the ability to do signs and wonders that counterfeit the real thing. In a world of increasing spiritualism, you can’t help but begin to see how Christianity has unfortunately been affected by this.
Within the Seventh-day Adventist church, there is also reference to a lady called Ellen White, one of the movement's founders. She is believed to have the gift of prophecy and provide a lot of written and verbal input beyond her natural ability to help guide people into greater truth.
There is a tendency for Seventh-day Adventists to arguably over emphasise Ellen White, who admitted herself not to be a prophetess and that the Word of God was always correct. However, when you look at the fruit of her work and the detail in her prophecies (one of the world’s most popular female authors), I believe she was inspired by the Holy Spirit even though still, of course, human, and with others, not herself being able to exercise this Spirit of Prophecy.
I have found this whole spirituality issue a bit wishy-washy in modern Christianity. Either nothing is inspired or on the other extreme anyone can come out with any form of prophecy like a word or picture with no clear way of this being tested, as instructed by scripture.
Therefore, I have found it quite refreshing to still believe in the power and gifts of the Holy Spirit, but more purely and simply.
5. Sanctuary (the Thumb)
This is a big issue that took me the longest to understand, yet the most pivotal doctrinal point as everything else tends to stem from this.
I actually best understood this in three stages, like the three lights of a traffic light.
The red and ‘stop’ is first to understand that there is a sanctuary in heaven that God and Christ are in, a kind of residence for them. Hebrews is the best description of this, with Old Testament books then showing how this was replicated on earth through Moses, and with talk of Jesus now being the High Priest ministering in this heavenly sanctuary.
We don’t hear much talk of this in modern Christianity, but you can easily spot that this does clearly exist in heaven when you stop and look.
Secondly, as ‘orange’, you need to believe and appreciate the timing of God’s judgment. Usually, people assume we are judged by God when we die and meet Him face-to-face, whereas, in actual fact, it is believed by Seventh Day Adventists to happen before the Second Coming.
This does sound strange at first, particularly when you talk about this judgment actually being underway right now since the year 1844, which is a critical date for the SDA movement. But looking in scripture, this does line up with Christ coming with rewards at his coming (so already having to judge and decide). Daniel’s prophecy of the judgment seat is set, and then the sanctuary is cleansed from a specific timeframe of the early nineteenth century.
This is then believed to be when Christ entered a certain part of the sanctuary in 1844 to begin this process of judgement - still all within the sanctuary and at the right hand of the father, with no detail in Hebrews saying that he automatically went into this final stage when he first ascended to heaven as mainstream Christianity believe, and with pictures in Revelation of Him also in both parts of the heavenly sanctuary.
The 'green' part is then the go part and the criteria that Christ uses when judging every person. I actually realised that this was the real contentious issues for SDA believers, as it can come across as a tough ‘investigative judgement’ that dilutes salvation-by-faith alone, however, when I looked into it, it actually boils down to a classic theological debate stemming across all denominations overall time - whether we’re once saved and always saved or not.
The law is emphasised more in the SDA movement, in particular, the Ten Commandments as the moral law of God that remain in the ark of the covenant in the sanctuary (with the ceremonial and ordinance laws being just for the Jews at the time which fell away when Christ died).
Salvation is of course, only by faith without the law, but God then empowers us to live with a new heart to show fruit and eventual ‘compliance’ back to the law. In the Bible, James talks about faith without works being dead, and all the New Testament writers describe love being obedient to Christ and His Commandments.
This also believes that we need to regularly confess our sins to God and walk with a clear conscience and heart. In contrast, mainstream beliefs tend to assume that you can still sin and your ‘eternal security’ is not affected, just maybe how many rewards you received in heaven.
So, when we’re saved by repentance and calling on the name of Christ alone and receiving His grace, our names DO go in the book of life. Christ then needs to audit this in order to make sure that our salvation is sure, that we have truly repented of all our sins, and that rewards are issued to those who are.
For those who still willfully sin and disobey Christ, then there is the risk of us actually losing our salvation and names coming out of the book of life, something that is clearly referred to in Revelation.
All About Christ
At the end of the day, being a born-again Christian is all about a real relationship with Jesus Christ and not a series of better or technically more correct knowledge. We are changed into a new creation in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.
However, correct understanding of the truth and how we relate to our Saviour is important to truly abide in Him, and navigate through a fallen world to glory. Obedience to him is key to demonstrate our love for Him; an ever-more important factor as the world becomes a crazier place, and the day of His Second Coming draws closer.
Therefore, back in 2017 when God first revealed to me the importance of biblical prophecy through Daniel's book and the importance of the true Sabbath rest, I have come to realise the importance of the biblical truths through the Seventh Day Adventist Church.
I reckon the fundamental doctrinal differences with mainstream denominations are these above five issues and thank God that I have discovered that these actually make sense, and help rather than hinder my walk with Christ.