Can Seventh-day Adventists participate in community Easter events without compromising our unique message and mission? Many members don’t think so, and some of them are not shy about enforcing their convictions upon their pastor and fellow congregants. Are they correct or zealously mistaken?
What should Adventists do about holidays that have ancient origins in paganism? We can condemn them, or just ignore them. Or how about taking advantage of them evangelistically?
I will try to make a case for that last option. First let me clarify my own conviction that we should never compromise our fundamental beliefs (notably the Sabbath, the sanctuary, Christ’s second coming, the nature of death, and spiritual gifts—including the gift of prophecy). That said, I believe we must seize every opportunity to share Christ in the context of our culture. And nothing besides Christmas gives us more of a chance to do that than the Good Friday/Easter weekend.
It’s often observed that many nonbelievers, including spouses of members, venture into worship services just twice a year, on Easter weekend and during Christmastime. If they don’t hear us talk and sing about Christ’s birth, death and resurrection at those times, they may wonder whether Adventists hold these Christian fundamental beliefs (in which all our denominational doctrines must be rooted). They may even doubt that Adventists are actually Christians—especially if our sanctuaries display an image of three angels instead of the cross. (Why can’t we show both, with the cross portrayed as supreme?) Worst of all, we may be robbing these unsaved guests of a chance to hear a word in season regarding the Gospel.
Please ponder that biblical term, “a word in season” (Isa. 50:4). Despite the increasing secularity of society, unchurched people are still conditioned by our culture to think about Christ’s life, death and resurrection during these holidays–more than they do any other time of the year. Is it wrong to take advantage of the evangelistic opportunities afforded by the Easter and Christmas seasons? Actually, would it not the opposite be true?
Easter and Christmas also give us opportunity to connect with fellow Christians, cooperating with them regarding areas of common faith in Christ (again, without compromising our unique doctrines). I finally learned this in my own pastoral ministry. Joining the non-Adventist association of pastors provided opportunities to preach at a community Easter celebration. People who had seen me on local Christian television greeted me at the mall as a fellow believer. Pastors invited me to visit their churches and pray during worship services. One had me negotiate a dispute among his elders. I joined a community Christian band (no great contribution there, musically, but I did enjoy the experience and made friends for my church). The pastor of the city’s largest church, who previously was known to despise Adventists, befriended me and sponsored me as a law enforcement chaplain. This connected me with neighbors in crisis whom otherwise I could never invite to church. Once a “March for Jesus” was moved from Sabbath morning to afternoon for my sake. Fellow chaplains would tease me about being a vegetarian—then ask for meatless recipes. Nobody accused Seventh-day Adventism of being a cult.
Meanwhile our Sabbath morning attendance doubled. The key was collaboration with the local Christian community while preserving a distinctly Adventist mission and message.
You may be thinking: Even if all that’s true, what about the pagan origin of holidays? Let’s remember that Christ overcame the world, the flesh and the devil. That victory happened on the cross—which actually had been the ultimate cursed pagan symbol. Yet He turned that cross into the symbol of our salvation, so that we read in the Bible: “God forbid that I should glory, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. 6:14). So let the world carry on with its pagan Easter bunny and Santa Claus abomination; we will glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Amazing grace that triumphs over evil! God exercises His sovereign right of eminent domain, displacing the devil from pagan symbols and holidays and transforming them into memorials of His salvation. All who are willing to turn away from the world’s distractions and seek the Lord’s presence will discover His influence everywhere. Our sovereign God “has not left Himself without witness” (Acts 14:17). Despite the fact that “the whole world lies in wickedness” (1 John 5:19), it’s still true that “the earth is full of the goodness of the Lord” (Psalm 33:5). Therefore, so to speak, the glass is more than half full!: “Where sin abounds, grace much more abounds” (Rom. 5:20).
To summarize: Unsaved friends and relatives are more willing to attend church and come to Christ during the holidays than at any other time of the year. To connect with them, we need to be in touch with our culture’s traditions—without being compromised—and show how Jesus is Lord of all, including our holidays. In doing so, we also bear witness to the local Christian community that we ourselves are believers in Jesus, which might persuade those who become curious or convicted to consider Seventh-day Adventist fundamental beliefs for themselves.
One final thought to ponder: the resurrection of Jesus Christ a lot more important than many Adventists realize; in fact it is fundamental in our quest for revival and reformation.
More on that in a future post.