This is the final post in my three-part series comparing Seventh-day Adventists and Anabaptists. Please see the introduction to Part 1 if you have not yet read it.
Part 1 looked at expectations about God. Part 2 considered expectations of Christians and the Church. Part 3 will look at our common expectations for the world. Since I know many Adventists are reading this series along with YAR’s regular readers, I hope it has helped each faith community understand the other a bit more. Naturally, there is still much to learn about each tradition beyond the similarities covered here.
Before beginning the final comparison, Tim invited me to make a few observations about the CBS television program that was the catalyst or spark for this series—“World Religions: Sikhs, Seventh-day Adventists, and Mennonites” (description, video, schedule). One of the few common features between the three faith communities is that to varying degrees we are outsiders to American culture or society. We struggle with how to be true to our faith’s demands about being different and somehow separate while still engaging and influencing society. To use a decidedly Christian phrase, How is an adherent of one of these traditions to be in the world but not of it?
The first thing that surprised me about the program was how short it was. With a mere 27 minutes divided between the three faiths, only the most basic information could be conveyed. At its best, the program may pique one’s interest, leading to more study. Hopefully no one turns off their TV or closes their web browser after watching it and says, “Now I understand the ___.” They would be mistaken.
That said, I do feel like the producers made the most of the few minutes available. Clearly, the focus of the program was very different from this series I have been posting. Reading the Wikipedia pages for Mennonites and Seventh-day Adventists would cover most of the historical and cultural information covered in the program, whereas my objective here has been to show the theological similarities between the two movements with the purpose of situating Adventism within the Anabaptist stream of the Radical Reformation. As far as I can tell, Adventists side with Anabaptists on every major question at play during the Reformation. Because this is a contestable statement, I invite historical and theological academics to weigh in. This week I was told by an SDA pastor who studied at the Andrews University Seminary (the most prominent Adventist seminary globally) that George Knight (a noted Adventist theologian and historian) taught the same general thesis in his seminary classes as I am proposing here.
With the Mennonite story, the program’s focus was on the historical development of the faith community. This is an especially important part of the story, so it was a good place to begin in my view. It could have been a bit more precise in its description of the Reformation, differentiating between the radical and magisterial reformers. That would have helped explain why both the Catholic and Lutheran groups were persecuting the Anabaptists. And I’ve had a number of people ask me about the differences between Amish and Mennonites, so I can see why that was a point the producer wanted to clarify.
A few words were said about Mennonite faith and values—free church, believer’s baptism, simplicity, nonconformity and nonresistance—but the overall emphasis was on the historical development. This was positive, but I hope my Adventist community didn’t come away thinking this fully describes the largest denomination of Mennonites in the North America—Mennonite Church USA. Even though it’s not specifically about Mennonites, I encourage my fellow Adventists to read The Naked Anabaptist by Stuart Murray (I reviewed this for Adventist Today in 2010). I’m not sure we have an equivalent book in the Adventist community, but Charles Scriven’s The Promise of Peace is probably the most similar in both content and readability.
All that being said, I’m curious to hear what Mennonites thought of the description given in the CBS program.
With the telling of the Seventh-day Adventist story in the program, the history could have been a bit clearer. William Miller was indeed the figure head of the Millerite movement, but calling him an “Adventist” could be misleading. When his end-of-the-world prophetic interpretation failed in 1843 and 1844, the movement faltered and split into a few different streams. One of these eventually formed into the Seventh-day Adventist Church in 1863. Using the short-hand “Adventist” to apply to both the broad historical movement as well as the SDA Church itself causes confusion, it seems to me. The Seventh-day Adventist Church is the largest group to emerge from the Millerite/Advent movement, just as Mennonites are the largest group to develop out of the Anabaptist heritage (Wikipedia: Adventism versus Seventh-day Adventist Church). This is a minor point, but I think Miller would want it to be clear that he was a Baptist, not a Seventh-day Adventist. He is important for the Seventh-day Adventist story, but I’m not sure our story would be that important to him.
Beyond this history, the program moves to the value of healthful living. Dick Duerksen knows Adventist history better than I do, but I’m not sure the phrase he uses is quite on. His remark makes it sound like Adventists think you need to be healthy in order to go to heaven. I have a feeling this wasn’t quite how he wanted to say it since I don’t know any Adventists who believe that (not that I know all 18 million Adventists). But we do believe that health is important, and a vegetarian diet is a major part of this. I don’t know the numbers, but a significant portion of Adventists are not vegetarians; but those who eat from the fleshpots of Egypt (that’s a joke) do generally follow the clean/unclean meat criteria from the Torah. Even though abstaining from meat is not as widespread as abstaining from alcohol and smoking, I’ve heard three sermons from three different preachers over the past year advocating a completely vegan diet. This value was a major reason that Marianne Thieme, the Dutch politician who started the Party for the Animals, joined the Adventist Church (APF coverage; video).
Adventists have noted the health and environmental benefits of this lifestyle choice (Blue Zone TED Talk), and I was thankful that a vegetarian option was usually available at the AMBS cafeteria. I enjoyed many delicious meals with great conversation there. When I started studying at AMBS, I was surprised to learn that Nekeisha Alexis-Baker knew about the vegetarian cafeteria at Andrews University, an Adventist school that partners with AMBS on a few programs (social work and international development).
The TV program’s comments on Sabbath, service and medical facilities are accurate, I believe (other SDA beliefs). In North America, the major service organization is Adventist Community Services. Worldwide, the most significant humanitarian agency is ADRA (Adventist Development and Relief Agency), which is similar to MCC (Mennonite Central Committee). Adventists don’t have an organization like MEDA (Mennonite Economic Development Associates), though ADRA does support micro-credit programs in some areas. And Adventists don’t have anything like Everence (thanks for the connection, Ross).
These comments about the television program are probably sufficient. Please let me know if you have any other questions about the Seventh-day Adventist Church or the connections between Adventists and Anabaptists more broadly. Now I will finally turn to the final installment of the three-part comparison. (Can you believe how long these three posts have been? Goodness!)
Part 3—Expectations of the World
In this world both Adventists and Anabaptists expect (a) suffering and persecution to follow true discipleship, and (b) separation of church and state. These are the two aspects I included in this section in my original class project. I think now I might go about organizing the various issues in a different way. It just seems to need refining.
Both Anabaptism and Adventism had much to say about persecution and suffering; however, the experience of the suffering was quite different. Whereas Anabaptism was birthed in violence and martyrdom at the hands of both Catholics and other Protestants, Adventism’s “end time” focus has a future-orientation to persecution that foresaw diminishing religious freedom before the return of Jesus. White also connected Sabbath observance to this persecution, a link that is probably not as universally accepted by Adventists today as then. This remains a controversial topic for Adventists.
For Anabaptists, the willingness to suffer the baptism in blood—amply documented in The Martyrs Mirror (which is not generally given as a wedding gift in the Adventist community)—is tied closely with two factors: yieldedness to God and a desire to follow after Christ. “Taking on the ‘mind of Christ’ was for Anabaptists a biblical way of speaking about the process of self-denial, denial of the flesh, denial of the world, and an affirmation of the life of the spirit that comes in and with Christ. We return here to…the centrality of a spirit of Gelassenheit, to the yielding of one’s will to God, in the same manner as Jesus Christ did before us…. If the key to the nature and character of Christ was his willingness to suffer and to yield up his will to God, ‘following after’ Christ will be a painful experience (at least initially), and not a triumphant one.” “Roman Catholic bishop Johannes Fabri, a staunch opponent of the Anabaptists” described how the Anabaptists went to their deaths: “They dance and jump in the fire, view the glistening sword with fearless hearts, speak and preach to the people with smiles on their faces; they sing psalms and other songs until their souls have departed, they die with joy, as if they were in happy company, they remain strong, assured, and steadfast to the point of death.”
Balthasar Hubmaier (1526-1527): “Leon: What is the nearest way by which one can go to eternal life? Hans: Through anguish, distress, suffering, persecution and death, for the sake of the name Christ Jesus. He himself had to suffer, and thus enter into his glory (Lk. 24). St. Paul also says: all who will live Godly in Christ must endure persecution (2 Tim. 3). Where Christ is and lives, he bears his cross upon his shoulders, and gives to each Christian his own little cross to bear, and with it to follow him. We should wait for the little cross, and when it comes receive it willingly, with joy and patience, and not choose our own chips and scraps of wood in imagined spirituality…”
Hans Hut (1527): “If a man is to come to the knowledge of the living Son of God he must await the work of God through the cross of Christ which we must carry and follow in the footsteps of Christ…. The Word must be born in us too. That can happen only through pain, poverty, and distress inside and out, etc. And where the Word has been born and become flesh in us so that we praise God for such a favour, our heart has found peace and we become Christ’s mother, brother, and sister.”
Leonhard Schiemer (1527): “It is true, Christ’s suffering destroys sin but only if he suffers in man. For as the water does not quench my thirst unless I drink it, and as the bread does not drive away my hunger unless I eat it, even so Christ’s suffering does not prevent me from sinning until he suffers in me.”
Hans Schlaffer (1528): “The Third Witness is Christ, who has himself said that his life is an example for us according to which we are to live and walk, everyone according to his measure, as Peter said: ‘Christ has suffered for us and left us a likeness or an example that we should follow in his steps’ (1 Peter 2[:21]). He continues: since Christ has suffered in the flesh for us, arm yourselves with the same mind, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has finished with sin so as to live for the rest of your earthly life no longer by human desires but by the will of God.”
Hans Hut (?): “Yes, we would all gladly find Christ and boast about it. But no one wants to suffer with him. Yes, if God’s spirit were given to the world through pleasure and splendor, the world would be full of Christians. But Christ conceals himself beneath flesh. And he only allows himself to be seen so that we notice him in the suffering of the greatest resignation (Gelassenheit), in which he shows himself to all his brothers… Then the person becomes conformed to Christ, the crucified son of God… Then the person lives no longer, but Christ.”
Jacob Hutter (1535): “Do not be ashamed of the bonds and suffering of Christ, but rejoice greatly in your hearts, for you know that nothing else has been promised you for your life on earth except suffering and death, tribulation, anxiety, distress and great persecution, pain, torture, insult and shame at the hands of godless men. That is the true sign and seal of all the pious children of God…”
Menno Simons (1554): “We know very well dear brethren, how that this cross seems to be to the flesh grievous, harsh, and severe, and in the present is not considered a matter of joy, but rather of sorrow, even as Paul says. But since it contains within itself so much of profit and delight, in that it constantly adds to the piety of the pious, turns them away from the world and the flesh, makes them revere God and his Word…and since it is also the Father’s holy will that by it the saints should be approved, and the pretender exposed in his hypocrisy, therefore all the true children of God are prepared to love, to do the will of the Father, rejoicing in it.”
Ralphel van den Velde (1576): He wrote to his wife from jail before being burned at the stake, saying “no one knows what bonds are, except he that tries them, this I may well say, for which I thank and praise the Lord with a joyful heart. I hope that I am over the worst and my heart is much resigned in suffering and affliction, and in death, but when I begin to think of parting from my love, and my dear son, then I cannot compose my heart so easily. But this comforts me much, that my child can keep his mother. And be not over-careful, my love; the Most High cares for you and also for your child; and our dear Lord has shown us much grace, that He has permitted us to live together so long. Yea, be not too careful, this I pray you, my love; but cast your care entirely and gladly upon the Lord; He will provide for you, and give you another husband in my place, if it be for your good. Ps. 55:22; I Pet. 5:7; Phil. 4:6.”
Ellen White (1911): “Through centuries of persecution, conflict, and darkness, God has sustained His church. Not one cloud has fallen upon it that He has not prepared for; not one opposing force has risen to counterwork His work, that He has not foreseen. All has taken place as He predicted. He has not left His church forsaken, but has traced in prophetic declarations what would occur, and that which His Spirit inspired the prophets to foretell has been brought about. All His purposes will be fulfilled. His law is linked with His throne, and no power of evil can destroy it. Truth is inspired and guarded by God; and it will triumph over all opposition.”
Ellen White (1911): “The persecution that came upon the church in Jerusalem resulted in giving a great impetus to the work of the gospel. Success had attended the ministry of the word in that place, and there was danger that the disciples would linger there too long, unmindful of the Saviour’s commission to go to all the world.”
Ellen White (1888): “The apostle Paul declares that ‘all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.’ Why is it, then, that persecution seems in a great degree to slumber? The only reason is, that the church has conformed to the world’s standard, and therefore awakens no opposition. The religion which is current in our day is not of the pure and holy character that marked the Christian faith in the days of Christ and His apostles. It is only because of the spirit of compromise with sin, because the great truths of the Word of God are so indifferently regarded, because there is so little vital godliness in the church, that Christianity is apparently so popular with the world. Let there be a revival of faith and power of the early church, and the spirit of persecution will be revived, and the fires of persecution will be rekindled.”
Ellen White (1911): “Jesus does not present to His followers the hope of attaining earthly glory and riches, of living a life free from trial. Instead He calls upon them to follow Him in the path of self-denial and reproach. He who came to redeem the world was opposed by the united forces of evil. In an unpitying confederacy, evil men and evil angels arrayed themselves against the Prince of Peace. His every word and act revealed divine compassion, and His unlikeness to the world provoked the bitterest hostility. So it will be with all who will live godly in Christ Jesus. Persecution and reproach await all who are imbued with the Spirit of Christ. The character of the persecution changes with the times, but the principle—the spirit that underlies it—is the same that has slain the chosen of the Lord ever since the days of Abel.”
Ellen White (1900): “The word of God often comes in collision with man’s hereditary and cultivated traits of character and his habits of life. But the good-ground hearer, in receiving the word, accepts all its conditions and requirements. His habits, customs, and practices are brought into submission to God’s word. In his view the commands of finite, erring man sink into insignificance beside the word of the infinite God. With the whole heart, with undivided purpose, he is seeking the life eternal, and at the cost of loss, persecution, or death itself, he will obey the truth.”
Ellen White (1900): “Often those who suffer reproach or persecution for their faith are tempted to think themselves forsaken by God. In the eyes of men they are in the minority. To all appearance their enemies triumph over them. But let them not violate their conscience. He who has suffered in their behalf, and has borne their sorrows and afflictions, has not forsaken them.”
Ellen White (?): “Religious powers, allied to heaven by profession, and claiming to have the characteristics of a lamb, will show by their acts that they have the heart of a dragon, and that they are instigated and controlled by Satan. The time is coming when God’s people will feel the hand of persecution because they keep holy the seventh day…. But God’s people are to stand firm for Him. And the Lord will work in their behalf, showing plainly that He is the God of gods.”
Ellen White (1911): “Every indignity, reproach, and cruelty that Satan could instigate human hearts to devise, has been visited upon the followers of Jesus. And it will be again fulfilled in a marked manner; for the carnal heart is still at enmity with the law of God, and will not be subject to its commands. The world is no more in harmony with the principles of Christ today than it was in the days of the apostles. The same hatred that prompted the cry, “Crucify Him! crucify Him!” the same hatred that led to the persecution of the disciples, still works in the children of disobedience. The same spirit which in the Dark Ages consigned men and women to prison, to exile, and to death, which conceived the exquisite torture of the Inquisition, which planned and executed the massacre of St. Bartholomew, and which kindled the fires of Smithfield, is still at work with malignant energy in unregenerate hearts. The history of truth has ever been the record of a struggle between right and wrong. The proclamation of the gospel has ever been carried forward in this world in the face of opposition, peril, loss, and suffering.”
Ellen White (?): “The remnant church will be brought into great trial and distress. Those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus, will feel the ire of the dragon and his hosts. Satan numbers the world as his subjects; he has gained control of the apostate churches; but here is a little company that are resisting his supremacy. If he could blot them from the earth, his triumph would be complete. As he influenced the heathen nations to destroy Israel, so in the near future he will stir up the wicked powers of earth to destroy the people of God. All will be required to render obedience to human edicts in violation of the divine law. Those who will be true to God and to duty will be betrayed “both by parents, and brethren, and kinsfolks, and friends.”
Ellen White (1905): “The time is hastening on when who stand in defense of the truth will know by experience what it means to be partakers in Christ’s sufferings. The great oppressor sees that he has but a short time in which to work, that soon he will lose his hold upon man and his power be taken from him, and he is working with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish. Superstition and error are trampling upon truth, justice, and equity. Every power that is antagonistic to truth is strengthening.”
Ellen White (?): “This small remnant, unable to defend themselves in the deadly conflict with the powers of earth that are marshaled by the dragon host, make God their defense. The decree has been passed by the highest earthly authority that they shall worship the beast and receive his mark under pain of persecution and death. May God help His people now, for what can they then do in such a fearful conflict without His assistance!”
Ellen white (1900): “Whatever crosses they have been called to bear, whatever losses they have sustained, whatever persecution they have suffered, even to the loss of their temporal life, the children of God are amply recompensed. ‘They shall see His face; and His name shall be in their foreheads.’ Revelation 22:4.”
Separation of church and state/Religious freedom
Religious freedom brought about by the separation of church and state has been an important theme for both movements. Despite expecting to be persecuted for their beliefs and practices, at some level they both expected society to make a measure of space for them, and to this end they called for change rather than merely accept as given the pressures of society.
The Anabaptist two-kingdom theology (which was not unanimously held) also contributed to their sense for a need to separate church and state rather than accept the unity expected by Catholics, Lutherans and Reformed (Zwingli and Calvin). “The kingdom of Christ was characterized by peace, forgiveness, nonviolence, and patience. The kingdom of the world, or Satan, was strife, vengeance, anger, and the sword which kills. Government belonged to this kingdom of the world.” Although they did believe government “was appointed by God and performed a divine function whether it was benevolent or tyrannous,” they “frequently called on governments to exercise their function justly. Where they saw abuses they were not slow to threaten governments with God’s judgments.” Furthermore, they held that “governmental activity should be strictly limited to its proper sphere. In particular, it should have no role in the life of the church.”
Balthasar Hubmaier (1526): “I implore you, admonish and warn, in the name of Jesus Christ and of his last judgment, all those whom God has girded with the sword, not to use it against innocent blood with persecution, imprisonment, hanging, drowning, or burning. Verily, verily, I say to them, that the shed and martyred blood will cry out against them to heaven with the innocent blood of pious Abel…to God…. Take heed, take heed, O you in power, lest you defile and wash your hands in the blood of the innocent…. It will not help you to say: I was forced to do so; my master bade me do it; he would have it thus. Nay, not so. One must obey God rather than man…. In short, to come to the point, God will excuse us for nothing on account of unjust superiors…”
Bernhard Rothmann (1534): Commenting on Romans 13: “But a government that oppresses the innocent and the righteousness and supports the godless, has not been ordained by God to do so, but by the devil whom it serves when it supports unrighteousness, even though it has received its power from God.”
Jacob Hutter (1535): “Woe, woe unto you, O ye Moravian rulers, who have sworn to that cruel tyrant and enemy of God’s truth, Ferdinand, to drive away his pious and faithful servants! Woe, we say to you! who fear more that frail and mortal man than the living, omnipotent and eternal God, and chase from you, suddenly and inhumanely, the children of God, the afflicted widow, the desolate orphan, and scatter them abroad. Not with impunity will you do this; your oaths will not excuse you, or afford you any subterfuge. The same punishment and torments that Pilate endured will overtake you…. The Most High will lift his hand against you, now and eternally.”
Menno Simons (1539): “O highly renowned, noble lords, believe Christ’s Word, fear God’s wrath, love righteousness, do justice to widows and orphans, judge rightly between a man and his neighbor, fear no man’s highness, despise no man’s littleness, hate all avarice, punish with reason, allow the Word of God to be taught freely, hinder no one from walking in the truth, bow to the scepter of him who called you to this high service. Then shall your throne stand firm forever.”
Menno Simons (1539): “Do not usurp the judgment and kingdom of Christ, for he alone is the Ruler of the conscience, and besides him there is none other.”
Ellen White (?): “The government of Israel was a theocracy, that is, government by God directly. When Israel and Judah repeatedly violated God‘s law and rejected His rulership, the Lord finally withdrew from them His direct government and left them to what they desired—subjection to man. Thus they came under the successive dominion of Babylon, Medo-Persia, the Greek Empire, and finally Rome. Since then, there has been no government anywhere to which God has delegated the authority that He gave to the king of Israel in the days of the theocracy. The Bible teaches a separation of church and state (Matthew 22:17-22), and therefore religious liberty for all. Earthly governments may not force the conscience or usurp the place reserved to God alone in the theocracy of Israel. Not until the second coming of Christ will God again establish His theocracy. Until then, men must not arrogate to themselves authority over the human conscience that God has not entrusted to them.”
Ellen White (?): “God never forces the will or the conscience; but Satan’s constant resort—to gain control of those whom he cannot otherwise seduce—is compulsion by cruelty. Through fear or force he endeavors to rule the conscience and to secure homage to himself. To accomplish this, he works through both religious and secular authorities, moving them to the enforcement of human laws in defiance of the law of God.”
Ellen White (1875): White taught that a major area where religious freedom would be ended regarded the Sabbath. “I have been shown that Satan is stealing a march upon us. The law of God, through the agency of Satan, is to be made void. In our land of boasted freedom, religious liberty will come to an end. The contest will be decided over the Sabbath question, which will agitate the whole world.”
Ellen White (?): “America’s precious freedom of religious belief and practice is in danger of being destroyed by those who would force the conscience of the minority to conform to the wishes of the majority.”
- What similarities or differences between the groups stand out to you the most?
- How do you respond to the stories and teachings about suffering and persecution? Do they sound scary, encouraging, overwhelming, unsettling, or something else?
- How did God prepare the early Anabaptists to face persecution? What resources were available to them?
- What do you think about the Adventist view that there will be increased religious persecution in the United States in the future?
- In what regions are Christians being persecuted today? How can we support them?
- What beliefs, values or practices would you consider dying for?
- Do you think religious freedom should have limits? Is there any religious activity that you would vote to outlaw or control?
- What does the separation of church and state mean to you? Are there appropriate ways for religious leaders to speak about politically charged topics? Should they criticize political leaders or policies? If there are limits to either religious groups getting involved with politics or the government controlling religious groups (e.g., taxation, free speech, etc.), where is the line to be drawn in a pluralistic society?
Jeff Boyd is the assistant news editor at Adventist Today, research coordinator at Tiny Hands International, and secretary for the Adventist Peace Fellowship. Jeff completed an MA in Peace Studies with a concentration in International Development at the Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, and he also has an MBA from Andrews University and undergraduate degrees in religion and psychology from Union College. Jeff lives in Flint, MI, with his wife, Charissa.
Photo Credit: Menno Simons. “Menno Simons bei seiner schriftstellerischen Tätigkeit.” Wikimedia Commons.
– – –
 C. Arnold Snyder, Following in the Footsteps of Christ, 45.
 Ibid., 159.
 Walter Klaassen, ed., Anabaptism in Outline, 87-88.
 Ibid., 89-90.
 Ibid., 90-91.
 C. Arnold Snyder, Following in the Footsteps of Christ, 43.
 Ibid., 46.
 Walter Klaassen, ed., Anabaptism in Outline, 91-92.
 Ibid., 98.
 C. Arnold Snyder, Following in the Footsteps of Christ, 165.
 Ellen White, Acts of the Apostles, 11.
 Ibid., 105.
 Ellen White, The Great Controversy, 48.
 Ellen White, Acts of the Apostles, 576.
 Ellen White, Christ’s Object Lessons, 60.
 Ibid., 172.
 Ellen White, Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 9, 229-230.
 Ellen White, Acts of the Apostles, 84-85.
 Ellen White, Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 9, 231.
 Ellen White, Christian Service (1922), 157.
 Ellen White, Christian Teachings and Experience of Ellen White (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1922), 188.
 Ellen White, Christ’s Object Lessons, 180.
 Walter Klaassen, ed., Anabaptism in Outline, 244.
 Ibid., 244, 246.
 Ibid., 245.
 Ibid., 246-247.
 Ibid., 253.
 Ibid., 254.
 Ibid., 256.
 Ibid., 257.
 Ellen White, From Eternity Past (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1983), 551.
 Ellen White, Darkness before Dawn (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press, 1997), 35.
 Ellen White, Evangelism (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing, 1946), 236.
 Ellen White, Darkness before Dawn, 24.