N A MEETING THE OTHER DAY I HEARD ONE OF THE PARTICIPANTS REFER to the “Adventist message.” While I know exactly what the speaker meant, I was struck by the exclusivity of that terminology. Is the Adventist message the same as the biblical message targeted for all believers? Is there a danger in claiming that a “message” from God is the exclusive possession of only one group of people in a vast world? Are Adventists the only people God will use to communicate to the world His end-time message?
To address the crux of my questions, we have to settle whether one is a Christian first or an Adventist first. Let me explain.
For someone to say he or she is a Christian suggests that the person—in simplest terms—is a radical, passionate follower of Christ both in word, faith, and action. This is the quintessential description of what it means to be a Christian.
On the other hand, for people to say they are Seventh-day Adventist, Baptist, Methodist, Mormon, Church of God in Christ suggests that they are adherents to a set of beliefs espoused by their particular group. They may use Scripture in an attempt to validate their particular beliefs, but that doesn’t necessarily make those beliefs Christian. They could be only propagators of their belief system and not Christ. And there’s the danger.
No matter how accurate a church’s belief, if that church doesn’t lead with lifting up of Christ as the only way to salvation, but leads instead with the purity of its doctrine, its brand of Christianity immediately becomes suspect. Its adherents become more infatuated with its doctrinal statements than with Christ. And when you hear its members talk, it’s always about “our” message, not Christ. And if they’re not careful, the members of that church, even if they perceive themselves to be Christian, will lead people to “their” truth rather than to “the” truth found only in Christ Jesus. Furthermore, they will be woefully weak in knowing how to lead a person to trust Christ for salvation.
There’s no question: I believe the Seventh-day Adventist Church has a special mission in this world. But the “headline” of that mission is not the end-time message, however critical. It is the fact that God’s true people are radical and passionate followers of Christ in word, faith, and deed. They are authentically Christian. They trust Christ daily for their salvation, and they believe “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord [Jesus Christ] will be saved” (Acts 2:21), that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). It is a simple but powerful message—one that Christians should lead with, because we’re Christians first.
Some years ago I heard a person place the proper balance between being Christian and being Adventist this way: Christianity is the destination; Adventism is the chosen vehicle.
With the special end-time message highlighted in the Scriptures for any believer (Adventist or not) to know and share—that Jesus is coming again soon—it is good to know that our church is at the forefront in preaching and advancing this glorious message, whose fulfillment is just before us. However, it is not an “Adventist message,” but a biblical message. We don’t own the rights to it, and anyone can take it up anytime and preach it.
Joel Osteen, famous television preacher out of Houston, gave a powerful message on health some months ago. Some of my Adventist friends spoke about how he’s preaching our health message. Excuse me? The last time I checked, good health is a biblical message.
When I’m Adventist first and not Christian first, I can become exclusive and territorial when it comes to the message of God’s Word. When I’m Christian first, it doesn’t matter who tells the message as long as it gets out. 
Fredrick A. Russell is president of the Allegheny West Conference of Seventh-day Adventists with headquarters in Columbus, Ohio.

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