Evangelicals, Adventists Consider Future Ties Despite Differences

Representatives of the World Evangelical Alliance and Seventh-day Adventist Church recently met for a second round of theological discussion that will serve as a key factor in determining whether the Adventist Church will become a member of the WEA.

Theologians from both parties met Aug. 5-10 at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Mich., to discuss theological differences, common goals and whether there are enough commonalities for the Adventists to join the WEA family.

"The progress seems to have been that although there are these differences, which no one wants to gloss over, that does not mean there cannot be cooperation and fellowship in other areas, especially in moral matters," explained the Rev. Dr. David Parker, executive director of the WEA Theological Commission, to The Christian Post Tuesday.

"This is similar to other situations where denominations and religious groups may have differences of belief but do hold common values in some areas allowing them some measure of cooperation and joint-action," said Parker.

A well-known difference between Adventists and other Protestants is in regards to the Sabbath. Adventists hold their Sabbath on Saturday rather than on Sunday. Moreover, they believe death is a time of "sleep" until the second coming of Jesus Christ, rather than the soul going to heaven or hell.

One of the greatest and most divisive differences, which is the foundation of Adventism, is the pre-Advent judgment. Adventists believe Jesus will give the final judgment before his second coming, whereas Protestants believe the last judgment will occur at or after the second coming.

"We were able to share with the evangelical world the Adventist self-understanding in an effort to eliminate prejudice and clarify questions about our message," said Adventist meeting organizer John Graz, secretary of the Council on Inter-church and Inter-faith Relations of the Seventh-day Adventist Church (CIRA), in a statement.

"Instead of knowing about us through questionable means, this allowed us face-to-face interaction to share where our church stands," he said.

The idea for a WEA-Adventist dialogue came several years ago when the Adventist Church approached the WEA Theological Commission. They wanted to be considered more as part of the mainstream evangelicalism than they had in the past, leading them to seek a top level theological discussion with WEA to clarify differences. The first WEA-Adventist dialogue was held in Prague, Czech Republic, in August 2006.

"From the WEA side, there had been approaches in some parts of the world for Adventists to join the WEA family as members of national evangelical alliances or the like," said the WEA's Parker. "And so the WEA was interested to know what the theological situation was at the present time and whether there was enough compatibility for Adventist to be able to sign the WEA Statement of Faith."

Both parties are now contemplating what appropriate steps should be taken, if any. The WEA leadership is currently deciding whether the outcome of the theological talks would "give sufficient warrant" for further steps and if interested Adventists groups around the world should be allowed to join the WEA as members based on theological compatibility. The Adventists are also deciding what the next step should be.

Last week's discussions were led by Dr. Rolf Hille, chairman of the Theological Commission of the WEA, and William G. Johnsson, assistant to the president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists for Interfaith Relations.