Convener of the Seventh-day/Reformed Dialogue Reflects on the importance of the dialogue process
Presbyterian / Seventh-day Adventist Dialogue Report
At the request of our respective denominations, a study group representing the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Seventh-day Adventist Church (SDA) was convened in 2006 to explore the possibilities for fruitful dialogue. After meeting annually for three years, participants recommended that we engage in a formal inter-church dialogue, beginning in 2010 – a recommendation endorsed by both denominations. The co-chairs for this dialogue, Dr. William Johnsson (SDA) and Dr. Sheldon Sorge (PCUSA), had been present from the beginning of the exploratory conversation, and continued with the dialogue through its completion in 2013.
As we journeyed together, both sides discovered several things we might learn from each other. Presbyterians indicated several places where they believe the PCUSA could significantly benefit from the SDA witness:
- Developing an eschatology that nurtures a more robust hope for the second Advent, and with it a more acute sense of the church’s missionary urgency
- Nurturing more vital multi-cultural congregations by focusing more on mission and less on ourselves
- Urging members to be more diligent in the practice of Sabbath-keeping
- Becoming more attentive to God’s call to be a community set apart from the ways of the world
- Promoting healthy personal life choices as a Christian norm
Adventists also highlighted several areas where they believe the SDA church could be strengthened by the witness of the PCUSA:
- Becoming more engaged with other churches to strengthen common bonds in the Lord
- Relying more fully on historic church texts and liturgical orders in planning worship
- Developing a stronger theology of church governance
- Educating the church for engaging more broadly in transformative social justice work
- Emphasizing the church’s primary purpose as glorifying God, from which all its mission then flows
Through this dialogue we learned that our distinctive areas of faith and practice, rather than separating us, can offer opportunity to learn from each other. This requires our relearning what we thought we already knew about each other. By delving more fully into the biblical, historical, and theological bases for SDA teachings on Sabbath and Advent, Presbyterians were able to set aside misconceptions about these SDA emphases, and came to realize how much the PCUSA could benefit from them. Likewise, the Adventists learned better the Presbyterian understanding of divine sovereignty and election, the theological roots of its ecumenical and social justice commitments, and how those concerns could helpfully inform their church also. For this opportunity to learn from one another and to develop deep friendships in Christ with each other, all participants are deeply grateful to God!