What kind of church do I want to belong to? I have asked myself.
Published on: 05-01-2020
Which church do you belong to?”
For most of 2019, I dreaded this question. Every time I attempted to answer the question truthfully, the reaction I consistently received made my heart cringe. It didn’t matter where I was—at work with colleagues, among family members I hadn’t seen for a while, with my classmates, or even among strangers at the local barbershop. Their responses varied, but they always went in the same direction.
“Why would you go to that church?”
“With all the negative things being written and heard about your church members, why do you still profess their faith?”
“Are there really Spirit-filled Christians in your church?”
“I’ve always respected Seventh-day Adventists, for they have always been solid, sober, loving Christians with sound doctrine. What happened to them?”
This last response from a fellow doctor in my hospital felt like an arrow right through my heart. I was tongue-tied. How could I respond to that question, considering what had been going around in the media? Television, newspapers, and radio stations in my country had been awash with stories of infighting among local church members, some even violently expressing themselves over contentious issues.
How could I defend my church in the midst of the public display of anger, bitterness, and conflict of some of its members? Wasn’t this the very opposite of basic Christian foundational principles? I needed a lot of courage to stand up for my faith and my church community and be a faithful flagbearer, especially when the flag had been tainted by news stories of fellow church members fighting each other.
As a young boy I grew up knowing that Adventists have always been considered a “peculiar” people in my part of the world (that is, “weird,” and not as used in 1 Peter 2:9)—known mostly for their love of soy and their refusal to participate in school and work activities on the seventh day of the week. Right now, at the beginning of 2020, popular sentiments of Adventists have a lot more attached to them than I ever imagined.
What kind of church do I want to belong to? I’ve asked myself. I want my church to be known for its love and acceptance. As a Seventh-day Adventist, I want to be known for my compassion toward all. I want to be known for inclusivity— accepting all people without fear, favor, or prejudice. I want to be known for my kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness, among other fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22, 23). I want to be known for my integrity, loyalty, generosity, warmth, and joy.
Most important, if Jesus were an Adventist living in 2020, what would He want to be known for? Surely not for the local feisty disputes of 2019. Instead, He emphatically reminds us, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). This love starts with you and me. How do we treat the people around us—even when no one is looking? Do we maintain our calm, and proclaim Christ’s message of love in our actions? Are we known first and foremost for being the most loving Christian denomination on earth? Or are we known mostly for our staunch proclivity to our opinions at whatever cost?
The church I want to belong to is . . . compassionate.
The church I want to belong to has love at the center of it all.