Wednesday, 14 March 2007

Conditional immortality, anyone?

Well, here I am again. I am impressed to report that we have blue sky and white clouds here, and the hills are looking all Welsh and picturesque in the distance. You can bet that you'll freeze if you go outside in an optimistically thin jumper, but still. I don't have any lectures on Wednesdays so I'm doing this while my Kelloggs Crunchy Nut goes down, then it's off to the gym. I have coursework to do but my best working hours by far are late afternoon until the early hours of the morning, hence this order of things. Nothing much exciting has happened around here so far this week, but I discovered yesterday that the Arctic Monkeys are playing in Southampton when I'm home for Easter, so I am very very excited. Of course, tickets are being assigned via a ballot system, so there's no way I can improve my chances of getting one - I can only wait and hope! I'd love to see them though. I was singing along to them from about 6pm til 1.30am last night, so my flatmates probably aren't as keen on them any more. Oops.

Oh, actually, I'll show you a photo of the view from my room, so you can see how nice it gets. This was taken the other evening:

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[Brief pause while I read the email that just arrived and discover it is Borders telling me about their latest book deals. There isn't one in Cardiff so this smarts slightly.]

Anyways, my topic today is the Seventh-Day Adventists. "But why?" I hear you cry. Well someone (OK, it was my mum) asked me recently what I knew about the Adventists, and I was a bit stuck. I vaguely recall the name from somewhere, but nothing else. So I spent some time on Google to see what I could come up with. Seeing as it was quite hard to find an understandable summary, I thought I'd share what I found out. I am slightly biased from the point of view that I'm a Christian, so one of the key questions I had in mind was whether or not the Adventists are a *Christian denomination* because some sources say they are, and some insist that they're not.

Predictably, the first stop of my search was Wikipedia. The article there defines them as a Christian denomination and states that the Adventists (which seems to be the abbreviation they prefer) are "distinguished by their doctrinal beliefs that the literal, visible second coming of Jesus Christ is imminent, and that the seventh-day Sabbath of the Ten Commandments (Saturday) is the authentic biblical day of rest and worship which is still relevant today." The statement of fundamental beliefs on the official Adventist website also states in the 25th paragraph that "The almost complete fulfillment of most lines of prophecy...indicates that Christ's coming is imminent". I'm not sure how to feel about this as I have heard some many theories as to when the second coming will occur and how we will know. Personally, I don't feel that it is possible to say "it's going to happen soon" because the whole point, as the Adventists bizarrely seem to also acknowledge, is that "The time of that event has not been revealed". We just don't know!

The business about the Sabbath being on Saturday is an interesting one, and I have been intrigued to discover why the Adventists observe it on Saturdays. On a message board there is an one explanation of this, albeit through the use of far too many capital letters for my liking. The contributor explains the notion that in Luke 24:1 the resurrection morning (which is accepted as a Sunday) is described as the first day of the week. Previously, in Luke 23:54 which takes place on the Friday that Jesus died, it is stated that when the sun went down, it would be the Sabbath day i.e. Saturday was the Sabbath. I think that most people would agree that the Sabbath was the seventh day of the the only argument seems to be over which day is the 7th day. My own Bible says in the dictionary bit at the back that the Sabbath was the 7th day in the Jewish week. This site suggests that the Sabbath at the time of Christ was on Saturdays. Wikipedia says the same - that Saturday was the Jewish day of rest. Both articles also reckon that Sunday is now conventionally used as a day or rest and worship by Christians because it commemorates Jesus' resurrection from the dead. So I think you can see why the Adventists choose to keep Saturday as the Sabbath, and I don't think I could criticise their reasoning. I like the way Sunday fits in with the resurrection, though.

This brings me onto another debate, over the Ten Commandments. The Adventists, from what I can make out, come from the stance that the Ten Commandments are binding and must be observed. This is mostly a matter of how you phrase it. I would say that, although the commandments are a very useful prescription for a life that strives for godliness, they are not binding in that they are not needed for a person to become a Christian and be 'saved'. They occur in the Old Testament, and the idea here is that because the OT describes events before Jesus' life, following the commandments was the only way to God. From Jesus' death and resurrection, Jesus himself is the way to God because of that whole him-dying-for-our-sins lark. So however well you follow the commandments, those rules in themselves will not make you a Christian. But I'm being picky here - it's hard to tell how the Adventists stand on this.

A BBC article reckons that the Adventists "accept that the cross was the full and complete sacrifice for sin" which obviously indicates that they don't see the commandments as binding, though I am slightly skeptical over whether this is maintained - I would have expected to see this clearly stated in their own statement of beliefs. But anyway. In other area, the Adventists seem to be pretty straightforward. The BBC article explains that they share core beliefs with other denominations, such as belief in the virgin birth, that Jesus was fully God and fully man, and that the Bible is the 'Word of God'. This is nice to hear and I can see why the Adventists are therefore seen as just another Christian denomination.

The Adventists encourage vegetarianism, and are against drugs and alcohol. While I've never had a problem with eating meat or enjoying alcohol (in moderation!) I suppose you could say that this is just encouraging healthy living and respect for your own body. Can't argue with that! Followers seem to vary in how far they uphold these views, with some saying that Adventists must be veggie etc and some saying that it's merely recommended. Certainly, considering how many problems drugs and alcohol can cause in society, I think it's cool for religious groups to encourage us to be accountable with what we put into our bodies and to recognise how it can affect others.

I do have one gripe with the basis of Adventist beliefs, which is that as well as the Bible, they also view Ellen White's writing and teachings extremely highly. A statement on the Adventist website reckons that White's life and ministry is proof of God's promise to provide the "spirit of prophecy" to the remnant church (more on that later). Hmmmm. I'm afraid I'm not too wild about this idea. Yes, I believe that God gives gifts to people to use as part of the church community. But I'm not convinced that any one person should be elevated in the way that White has been. I'm sure she did have some groovy encouraging words, and I highly value the work of those with the gift of teaching, because I really think that God uses people to put across his message in new, fresh ways, and to provide encouragement. But just this one woman? Not so much. The fact that she is described in places as a "founder" of the Adventist church grates me.

As for the 'remnant church' business, the Adventists say (again, in their fundamental beliefs)that in the last days before the second coming of Christ, a remnant has been marked out to hold up God's commandments and all that. They believe that they are the remnant church. Kudos for wanting to be involved, but what about all the other denominations? I'd kind of like to be in on that one as well, you know? Saying that they're the remnant church is a bit exclusionary. But again, the extent to which this is insisted upon varies. Some sources allow that other denominations may be allowed to join in. Another of their statements says that "we gladly acknowledge that sincere Christians may be found in other denominations". There's been a lot of criticism of the Adventist position on Roman Catholics, which shows in the way that the same statement adds "including Roman Catholicism". Officially, the line is that although they think Catholics as a group have made some mistakes in the past, they accept that at least some of them are genuinely Christian. Unofficially, I can't make out how many Adventists are actually against Catholics - mutterings in forums suggest that some of them are a bit angsty about accepting Catholics. The statement I just mentioned is definitely worth a read, by the way. And to be honest, some of the stuff that's mentioned - such as papal primacy - has previously bothered me as well. Again, it comes down to differences between all denominations!

Right, I think it's about time I wound this up. I'm almost apologetic about the rambling, but it interests me so there you go. So I'll finish with a few other bits. There's the idea of 'conditional immortality' which rejects the more popular view that humans are innately immortal. The idea appears to suggest that people do not immediately go to heaven or hell after dying, which I'd put up for debate. Then there's 'investigative judgement' belief that says that the judgement of Christians, which decides who is worthy of salvation, began in 1844. My first reaction to this was pretty much "you what?" as 1844 doesn't mean anything to me. There's an amusingly written account of why this date was decided upon here which I'd strongly recommend - it made me smile. I'm really unsure about this as I don't like the idea of seemingly arbitrary links being made to figure out a specific year. It sounds a bit too Da Vinci Code-ish for me. Another thing I'll mention is that here it's said that the Adventists publish their own translations of the Bible. Since the quotes I've read from them sound the same as what I've read in mainstream Bibles, that doesn't seem an issue, though I'd like to know more.

So there we are. I could no doubt do with editing this later, but I'm going to post it like it is for now. I'd like to clarify that I have nothing against the Adventist church, as our differences are no reason to flatly say that they're in the wrong. I would simply say that, while many of their core beliefs tie in with those held by evangelical Christians and other denominations, some aspects of what they believe in differs in some significant ways. I understand why they insist on being called a Christian denomination, and recognise that they support a number of positive beliefs. My personal view is that they are a denomination that makes me quite uncomfortable, and I would not feel happy in an Adventist church environment. But, as ever, where anyone else stands is entirely up to them. Over and out...

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Listening to: All 7.9 hours of my Counting Crows collection
Feeling: Positive that today is going to be a productive day
Most recent achievement: Changing my Tesco Clubcard vouchers into £30 of Bella Italia vouchers. Score!

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