Adventist anti-Christs

Scared into salvation? Jarrod Stackelroth says fear-mongering can only lead us to bad theology and even worse practice.

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Seventh-day Adventism is in danger. It is a danger that has long been present and continues in many circles to make us the very thing we most despise—Anti-Christ.

The conditions are ripe for the growth of this virus in our Adventist body. Let me explain.

When I was a kid, there was nothing I liked more than a good Bible prophecy study or seminar—the beasts, the history, and the way it all fit together and proved that God was in control. I found it beautiful and interesting. I still remember our pastor preaching a series on the book of Daniel when I was around eight years old. It made an impact. And it should continue to. But it must be presented in balance and the right spirit.

In the same way that old revival preachers painted the image of a terrifying hell to urge people to repent (a doctrine Adventists reject), many of our own people use the images of end-time events, the times of trouble, persecution and conspiracy to manipulate and control people into belief. Reminiscent of propaganda campaigns to dehumanise the enemy (think “there’s a red under every bed”), these preachers and ministries set us up for an us against them mentality.

Religion based on fear is a white-washed tomb, a sepulchre of control, and empty and dead inside. Christ’s kingdom is founded on love, the most powerful force in the world.

God is not coercive or controlling. His choice to respect the freedom of all and to use love as a motivating tool finds its equal and opposite in the tool of the devil—fear. Control is a tool of the devil.

When our Church operates with fear as its primary motivator, it is playing into the enemies’ hands.

Control is what the Babylonians tried to do to Daniel and his friends. Their names were changed, their dress and diet, even their relational and sexual freedoms were taken away. They were owned and treated like possessions by the empire state.

Another thing we must guard against is overstating or being too speculative—otherwise we can undermine ourselves when our “predictions” don’t come true. We must make sure we don’t demonise other groups in our efforts to scare people into the kingdom, tactics that are far more reminiscent of a nationalistic state gearing up for war, than of a movement of end-time people who live out Jesus’ testimony (Luke 4:18,19) and try to obey God’s commandments. Some ministries hijack the message to make us fearful and suspicious, even of our own denomination.

"Religion based on fear is a white-washed tomb, a sepulchre of control, and empty and dead inside."

There is a name for those who have an unhealthy obsession with trying to initiate themselves into “hidden” mysteries—occultists. Ironically, if we stare for too long into the belly of the beast, we risk becoming the very thing we are so afraid of. Promoting a gospel message using or based on fear is anti-Christ by nature.

John tells us that perfect love (Jesus) casts out fear (1 John 4:18). Love is the opposite of fear, not hate because hate is often driven by fear.

Be clear, I’m not saying that our traditional understandings are incorrect or irrelevant. They are just as important as ever.

But when we fearfully chase after every new problem suggesting it is some conspiracy; when we shelve critical thinking and embrace things we watch on the internet, just because they confirm our prejudices or play on our fears—then we have let ourselves be controlled by a narrative that is not from God.

Our fear-mongering can only lead us to bad theology and even worse practice.

We need to rediscover how to study the Word of God for ourselves, we need to find some consistency in our messaging and our interpretive principles, and we need to make love for God and our neighbour our guiding light, rather than fear and polarisation.

If we start with God’s love and His character, as outlined beautifully in Adventist theology already, then our hope-filled message can have impact in this questioning modern world.