Patternism in Adventism (Mar-Jun 2010)

By Matt Dabbs

by Jim Ayars
March – June, 2010

When first asked about “Patternism” in Adventism, my first response was “Wazzat?” However, after looking over some websites devoted to discussion of the issue, it occurred to me that the Seventh-day Adventists might have something to add to the dialogue.

Do Seventh-day Adventists have any problems or issues with Patternism? The answer is mixed: Yes, and No.

My first reaction to the idea of the existence of New Testament “patterns” was that the existence of such things depends upon the filtered perspectives of the persons who see them. The recognition of patterns requires certain presuppositions. They are derived deductively, rather than discovered inductively.

SDA’s see seven-fold patterns

In this regard, Seventh-day Adventists see patterns all over the place, the most obvious being the Septimal or Sabbatarian patterns. The “seven-fold” pattern built around Sabbath shines throughout the Scriptures (in our Sabbatarian view, of course).

Whether we are talking about the seven-days of creation week, or the seven-fold festival pattern of Leviticus 23, or the six-thousand-year-long history of the world as revealed in Biblical chronology, followed by the seventh thousand year Sabbath Millennial rest, we see the Sabbath pattern repeated throughout salvation history.

We even find this septimal pattern within the Apostolic preaching. The sermons of the Apostles recorded in the Book of Acts follow a simple seven-fold outline throughout:

  1. Jesus FULFILLED God’s promises to us
  2. Jesus is the MESSIAH, the Son of God, our Savior
  3. Jesus LIVED for us
  4. Jesus DIED for us
  5. Jesus AROSE from death for us
  6. Jesus ASCENDED for us
  7. Jesus SHALL RETURN for us.

From this simple seven-fold outline we Seventh-day Adventists derive our whole doctrinal system. Everything we believe is derived from or related to these seven points.

This recognition of seven-fold patterns extends even to our exegesis. We see, for example, that the dramatic visions of the Apocalypse are revealed in seven acts, with seven scenes in each act. It is no surprise, I’m sure, that we see the Sabbath as being central to the seventh act, and a part of each seventh scene.

Sabbath ‘pattern’ in gospel

We even view the Gospel from a Sabbatarian perspective – God worked; God finished His work; we enter into and enjoy God’s finished work by grace through faith alone. Here our Sabbatarian perspective adds another protective dimension to the Gospel. Sabbatarians view God’s work for us as “finished.” Nothing we do or do not do either adds to or detracts from God’s finished work wrought for us in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Instead, we are invited by the Gospel to enjoy His finished work by faith alone. We live, grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ WITHIN His finished work wrought for us. We do not choose to live in Eden – no, we start there.

In this we agree with all who claim that Jesus Christ is our true Sabbath. Just as baptism is a sign that we are united with Christ in His death and resurrection, just as the Lord’s Supper proclaims our faith in Christ’s death for our sins, so our entrance into Sabbath at the end of the seven-day week of work signifies our entrance into and enjoyment of His finished work in our redemption. The Sabbath for us becomes a sacrament describing the whole plan of salvation. But notice that interesting phrase — “the plan of salvation.” We see that whole plan unfolding in a seven-fold manner (are we surprised?).

However, does one need to be a Sabbatarian Christian in order to notice the existence of such patterns? Do they appear to others who do not hold to a Sabbatarian perspective? I cannot answer that, since I have never been a non-Sabbatarian Christian. I’ll need some reaction from others from their perspectives.

One other question remains: is it essential to salvation to see seven-fold patterns throughout salvation history? I would answer with a resounding No! Absolutely not! It is essential only to see and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. It would be a denial of the Gospel to proclaim anything more.

Sabbath ‘rest’ points to Jesus’ finished work

In this regard, I am asked regularly by fellow evangelicals, “Do you believe that it is essential to keep the seventh-day Sabbath in order to be saved?”

The problem with this question is that it implies something false about the gospel, and which in itself denies the whole Sabbatarian perspective. What is the false assumption? The question assumes that our salvation is something yet to be finished for us in the future.

From our Sabbatarian perspective, our salvation is a present reality wrought and finished for us in the person and work of Jesus Christ. We can do nothing which will make this salvation more real or more complete than it already is. Our salvation was finished for us in the life, death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus Christ. It only remains for Him to bring to us personally the fruits of His finished work at His return. We enjoy the benefits of our finished salvation now by faith alone. For us, Sabbath is the supreme symbol in time that what He has done for us is truly finished. We enter into and enjoy His rest by grace through faith alone.

We might argue the mechanics of all of this ad infinitum. However, what we might all agree upon is that Jesus Christ, in His incarnation (which reunited us with God), His life (which makes us righteous), His death (which atoned for our sins), His resurrection (which guarantees our own eternity), His ascension (which keeps us from falling from God’s grace), and His return (which brings to us personally what we now only possess by faith alone), is our whole salvation.

Jesus our personal pattern

Having said all of this, we Seventh-day Adventists only recognize one pattern as being important as an expression of our relationship with God. This pattern does not add to or detract from our salvation. Nor does our success in following this pattern have any impact upon our eternal destiny. Having been saved, however, we have a pattern to follow.

This was stated in many different ways by our controversial, alleged “founder,” Ellen G. White. (By the way, she was not the founder of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination. She was a farmer’s wife in Greenville, Michigan when the Seventh-day Adventist denomination was organized into a legal entity. Her role was pastoral, not organizational. But I digress! That’s another subject entirely!) She wrote:

Christ is our pattern, the perfect and holy example that has been given us to follow. We can never equal the pattern; but we may imitate and resemble it according to our ability. When we fall, all helpless, suffering in consequence of our realization of the sinfulness of sin; when we humble ourselves before God, afflicting our souls by true repentance and contrition; when we offer our fervent prayers to God in the name of Christ, we shall as surely be received by the Father, as we sincerely make a complete surrender of our all to God. We should realize in our inmost soul that all our efforts in and of ourselves will be utterly worthless; for it is only in the name and strength of the Conqueror that we shall be overcomers (“Conquer Through the Conqueror,” The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, February 5, 1895, paragraph 7).

She described this form of patternism again like this:

Never can we equal the goodness and the love of Jesus, but he calls upon every man and woman, youth and child, to behold him, and by beholding his perfection of character, to become changed into his image. Call every talent into exercise to copy the Pattern. Christ died to save man, and he calls upon us to live as seeing Him who is invisible, that we may save souls. Then seek the Lord most earnestly. Eternal life at the right hand of God is worth a lifelong, persevering, untiring effort. Look to the cross of Calvary, and be no longer half-hearted. It is either life or death with every one of us; and when we surrender all, then Jesus will open ways that we may serve him with every power of our being. The Lord would have us gather up the rays of light, and be witnesses for Christ. (“Representing Christ to the World,” The Signs of the Times, November 28, 1892, paragraph 7.)

We believe that Christ alone is our pattern of life – about how we are to live in the world, and how we are to represent Him to a world that needs to know Him. We study Christ, knowing that because we have been saved forever by His life, death and resurrection, we may now live for Him day by day, reflecting His character of love and grace to each other in community, and to the world for the sake of the Gospel. When it is all said and done, for us Jesus Himself is our whole salvation, and our only pattern for discipleship.New Wineskins

Jim AyarsA fifth-generation Seventh-day Adventist, Jim Ayars has pastored churches for over forty years, serving not only Seventh-day Adventist, but also Baptist, Disciples of Christ, and independent congregations. Jim sang bass with the internationally known King’s Heralds Quartet for twenty-eight years. He has presented his seminar “Foundations for Faith” in Zimbabwe, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Okinawa and Japan, as well as in the United States. Jim is currently completing a Ph.D. in Systematic Theology, with emphasis on Apologetics, through Trinity Theological Seminary.

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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