The answer to the question “should the Advent Christian denomination survive?” is not obvious. Organizations outlive their usefulness, lose their original objectives, become superfluous or obsolete. This is just as true of Christian denominations as it is of individual churches. Sometimes decisions are made which lead to that fate, although the people making those decisions might have had the best of intentions. Stuff happens.
In New Zealand a few years ago, a denomination much like ACGC evaluated itself, and made the decision to disband. Many of the proponents of the move suggested that members would have more influence among mainline evangelical churches by joining those churches, and that maintaining a separate denomination was not practical. From the advantage of hindsight, the results of that decision appear to be mostly negative. A very few of the churches have decided to start a new Advent Christian conference in New Zealand.
Many Advent Christian churches in the U.S.A. and elsewhere have already surrendered their denominational distinctives, for whatever reason. They preach and teach the second coming of Christ at about the same frequency as other churches. They rarely – if ever – proclaim the message of life only in Christ – that is, conditional immortality. They appear to be going out of their way to be just like the other evangelical churches in their communities. This trend is bound to lead to suggestions among our churches that perhaps it is time for ACGC to give up its lease and go the way of all flesh.
Among these churches, many have named or renamed themselves, with names which are ambiguous. The names either do not reflect the Advent Christian heritage, or they do so in less obvious ways. They strive to be community churches – which is honourable – but they do not appear to want to be recognized as representing any particular denomination. Many within these churches (and within others who have retained the name) have no idea what the Advent Christian churches have historically taught, and some do not even care to know.
Tests of Authenticity
These realities make the question this article asks an important one – one which our churches must go to the scriptures to find an answer for. The Bible provides a number of texts which can serve as tests of authenticity for a denomination, as well as for individual churches. By examining these scriptures, churches can evaluate whether they are doing the works Christ expects of his Church. They can also see if their message fits that which Christ called his Church to proclaim.
The Confession Test
After Peter confessed the Jesus was the Christ, Son of the Living God – Jesus blessed him and said “on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” The word hell that Jesus used here was hades – which signifies not the place of final punishment but the state of death. The gates of hades is another way of saying the grave. Jesus promised that the Church that Peter would have a part in founding would survive; it would not die.
Any church which dares to confess the truth about Christ will be in danger of persecution and trouble from this world which is in opposition to Christ’s kingdom. The Church (notice capitalization), however, will never be totally eradicated because The Church is the means of Christ’s mission. The extent to which the Advent Christian denomination is part of The Church depends upon to what extent it maintains its confession of Christ.
The Discipling Test
Christ called his Church and all the groups within it not only to maintain a confession but also to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that (he has) commanded (us)”. This discipling role is also a test to see if a denomination is living up to its calling. We are not called simply to preserve a truth, but to infect the world with it. Churches have to be contagious. If a group starts losing more churches than it plants – something is wrong.
Discipleship involves four commitments:
First, it is a commitment to prioritize Jesus Christ. Compared to your commitment to Jesus, all other commitments and relationships must be regarded as the enemy. Jesus said “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters– yes, even his own life– he cannot be my disciple.” (NIV Luke 14:26).
Secondly, it is a commitment to the work that Christ calls you to do. Jesus said “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (NRS Luke 14:27). We don’t all have the same cross to bear, but we all must be committed to doing what we were charged to do. That commitment includes allowing Jesus to turn us into the kind of people who can do what he wants us to do. He said to his disciples “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (NKJ Matthew 4:19).
Thirdly, it is a commitment to sacrifice. Jesus said “any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.” (NIV Luke 14:33). This means investing everything you have in the cause of the Master. That investment may mean giving away things that you possess. It may mean using those things to benefit others in Christ’s kingdom, or to help the needy.
Fourthly, it is a commitment to the truth. Jesus said “You are truly my disciples if you keep obeying my teachings.” (NLT John 8: 31). This commitment starts as a desire to learn the truth, and further manifests itself as a disciplined lifestyle that stays with and lives the truth that is learned.
It is not enough merely to plant things which call themselves churches. Those churches must contain disciples.
The Lamp Tests
In Revelation 2-3, the question was whether the churches in Asia Minor in the first century AD would survive. The churches were pictured in a vision as seven golden lampstands, with Jesus walking among them. Jesus addresses each church with a challenge. If the people in the churches overcame the challenge, their church would survive. Otherwise, Christ would remove their lampstand.
This passage is a reminder that no church or group of churches is guaranteed survival, even if it has had a great past. What matters is how the church faces the challenges of the present. That is the question Advent Christians are facing today. Our future depends on how authentic we are in the present.
The Distinctiveness Test
When the apostle Paul was dealing with the problem of undisciplined tongues-speaking in the churches at Corinth, he said “if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle?” He argued that just making a lot of noise is not the way to do Christian ministry. Words need to be intentional for them to accomplish what the Holy Spirit wants. The same can be said of churches and denominations. History reveals that when any organization ceases to serve a distinct purpose and carry a distinct message, that organization is doomed to failure.
But what is the distinct message of the Advent Christian denomination? In spite of the fact that we have the word advent in our name, the message of the soon coming of Jesus Christ fails to qualify. It certainly deserves to be an emphasis in our teaching (especially in this age when there is so much excess baggage attached to the teaching). But this is a message which has been faithfully proclaimed and one about which we are in agreement with the vast majority of Christendom.
To nail down what deserves to be our denomination’s distinct message-mix one must combine a doctrinal essential which we share with other evangelicals and a doctrinal distinctive to which we have been attached from the beginning of the Adventist movement. The essential is salvation by grace; the distinctive is conditional immortality.
There is no doubt that there are other evangelical groups and denominations who have been more faithful and successful at planting churches which proclaim the truth of salvation by grace than we. There are also certain groups which have been more successful at teaching their members the conditionalist truth that life is only in Christ than we have been. But our calling is do both and sacrifice neither. Perhaps the following Venn diagram will illustrate:
Advent Christians find our niche and our usefulness to the kingdom of God by celebrating eternal life by God’s grace and by recognizing that eternal life is a gift, not an innate possession. We tell people that God does not owe them eternity, but offers it through Christ – and Christ alone. This message is important, and worth proclaiming. It is not supposed to be a secret that we keep.
The reader will notice that the title of this article begins with the word should and not the word will. There is no means of determining how long the Lord will preserve the denomination. The question that has been put forth for inquiry is “should the denomination survive?” The answer will depend on whether the churches continue to confess Christ, continue to make disciples for him, continue to overcome obstacles to our witness, and continue to proclaim the unique message God gave us to preach.
 Matthew 16:18.
 Matthew 28:19-20.
 Jefferson Vann, The Commands of Christ (http://commandsofchrist.wordpress.com/2009/12/01/chapter-19-determine-to-be-discipled/)
 Revelation 1:12-2:1.
 1 Corinthians 14:8.