A History of Interfaith Relations

BY JENS O. MOHR                                                                     [Main Story]

In Interchurch and Interfaith Relations: Seventh-day Adventist Statements and Documents, Stefan Höschele submits the first extensive collection of statements and documents of the Seventh-day Adventist Church regarding its interdenominational and nterreligious relationships. The author (or rather editor, since it is mainly a collection of texts written by other authors) is a lecturer for systematic theology and missiology at Friedensau Seventh-day Adventist University in Germany.

The book is divided into three parts. The first part, “Interchurch Relations: Resolution, Statements, and Other Texts,” contains decisions, explanations, and texts that describe the relationship of the Seventh-day Adventist Church with other denominations. These texts are printed in chronological sequence and are briefly introduced by the author.

For example, the volume documents the special relationship between Seventh Day Baptists, a small denomination that also keeps the biblical Sabbath, and Seventh-day Adventists, in which extensive cooperation concerning the spread of this pillar of belief was striven for and brotherly solidarity emphasized. Ellen G. White’s comments on the topic differentiate between churches as institutions and individual Christians.

The second part of the book, “Interchurch Relations: Dialogue Documents,” presents documents that show the outcome of formal and informal conversations between Seventh-day Adventists and the leaders of different Christian denominations (e.g., World Council of Churches, Lutheran World Federation, World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and World Evangelical Alliance). These documents show that the Seventh-day Adventist Church increased the extent of the interchurch relationships to larger church associations after initial efforts directed toward those closer to Adventist beliefs and interests. The establishment of the Council on Interchurch Relations in 1980 by the General Conference sought to facilitate this task.

The theological depth of the documents is remarkable, since they also touch “hot potatoes” such as Seventh-day Adventists’ self-understanding of “the remnant” and the interpretation of apocalyptic prophecy. As a result of such conversations a better mutual understanding is gained, thus helping to reduce misapprehensions without compromising our teachings.

The third part, “Interfaith Relations,” is dedicated exclusively to Seventh-day Adventist statements on interreligious relationships. They involve the relationship of the Seventh-day Adventist Church toward world religions, including Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Judaism.

These texts demonstrate how much our church is dedicated to the right of religious freedom for all people regardless of their specific faith commitment. The church takes Jesus’ mission imperative seriously, but also tries to meet other believers (or unbelievers) with respect and emphasize common ground wherever possible. The volume concludes with suggestions for further reading on the topic.

Interchurch and Interfaith Relations can be read with much profit. The texts help the reader grasp the tension that we often find ourselves in: being critical toward ecumenical trends that may challenge biblical truth, while at the same time seeking dialogue with other Christians and non-Christians. The book also sharpens the awareness of an important aspect of the history of our church.

The question remains, though, how the cited documents have and will influence interchurch relationships on the local level, since Höschele primarily focuses his collection on the level of the world church. This important and often divisive issue definitely invites further research and careful biblical and theological thinking.
The 185-page book is available from Forschungen zur Geschichte und Theologie der Siebenten-Tags-Adventisten 10 (Frankfurt a. Main: Peter Lang, 2010) for US$58.95.

Jens O. Mohr, pastor of the Stuttgart-Center Seventh-day Adventist Church in Germany. This article was published June 20, 2013.


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