by Preston Foster
Recently, an invitation made to evangelist T.D. Jakes to speak at the annual (Regional Adventist) Pastoral and Evangelism Conference (P&EC) was withdrawn. The withdrawal was the result of pressure, including an anti-Jakes web campaign and a petition, to disinvite Jakes.
Although the P&EC has, for decades, featured preachers of other faiths (the term “non-Adventist” is both myopic and insulting to me and, of more importance, to others), it seems the high profile of Bishop Jakes — including the worldwide reach of his ministry, posed a particular threat to these conservative laypeople. What specifically seemed to rile the Jakes detractors was a video excerpt of Mr. Jakes speaking about the Sabbath and 7th Day Adventists.
The video shows Bishop Jakes respectfully stating — from his pulpit in his church, that, although he knows the Sabbath is Saturday, he feels no obligation to keep a particular day holy. Jakes states that he would never posit his view on the Sabbath as a doctrine. It is simply, his belief and his interpretation of the New Testament. Of course, if Jakes agreed with the Adventist position on the Sabbath, he would likely be an Adventist.
The video, presumably edited by the anti-Jakes cabal, includes ominous background music, framing Jakes’ words as a threat to Adventism.
On the continuum of Adventist types, I am a traditionalist (some prefer “historical Adventist”). I believe the literal 6-day creation narrative, that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, the 7th day is God’s ordained Sabbath, we are saved by grace (not works), and that it was finished at the cross. I also believe the Great Controversy narrative and interpretation of the final days as described in Revelation. Although it is easy to find many far more conservative than me, I have spent a considerable amount of time in this space, defending traditional positions.
However, this is where I take the off-ramp from the traditional position. The inconsistent, exclusive position of these conservatives threatens to park Adventism in “Cultland.”
The anti-Jakes tribe has positioned themselves as protectors of the (Adventist) faith. Their video intermingles out-of context quotes from Ellen White, and the Bible to make their point — which seems to be that Adventists have no business listening to “non-Adventists” in Adventist settings. Their argument hinges on a narrow interpretation of Isaiah 8:20, “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, [it is] because [there is] no light in them.”
The not-so-subtle implication is that Adventist ministers are the only Christians who preach according to the “law and the testimony.”
This concern would seem legitimate had Jakes or any other 17 prior “1st day” ministers mounted the P&EC pulpit to advocate the sacredness of Sunday, to make a case against Adventism, or to make some other challenge to our doctrines. That is not so. I have attended the keynote addresses of at least three P&ECs. The guest speakers, all of other Protestant Christian denominations, spoke about Christ, the gospel, and the gift of grace. They spoke of the common ground within the body of Christ. All received loud “Amens” during their sermons and standing ovations at the conclusion. Preachers with enough stature to be invited to the P&EC are sophisticated enough to know their audience and mannered enough not to insult them. They have also demonstrated a unique ability to deliver the “good news.” Jakes, very likely, would have followed suit.
Still, those who stirred up this cause célèbre assume, somehow, that Jakes’ presence at the P&EC would influence pastors to question or abandon Adventism. If our pastors are that easily swayed, we are in trouble anyway.
If we were to be consistent with the position of the defenders of the faith, we would stop singing about 90% of the hymns in the Adventist hymnal, including “Amazing Grace.” “Marching to Zion,” and all Fanny J. Crosby standards, as none of those composers were Adventists in good and regular standing. They were, simply, Christians — part of the body of Christ.
More to the point, none of these defenders of the faith cited any problems with Adventist preachers being featured in other Protestant or non-denominational settings like the Martin Luther King Board of Preachers (at Morehouse University), TBN, or other prestigious venues. In short, we are good enough for them, but they are not good enough for us. The arrogance of this position is lost on the defenders since they comfortably accept the notion that full set of the remnant is composed of Adventists.
The myopic, exclusionary interpretation of the word (“remnant”) limits Adventist evangelistic efforts — and creates an easily challenged theological interpretation of the word. Why should someone listen to you when you’ve made it clear that you believe what they have to say is not worth hearing?
Clearly, we should not lend our pulpits to those whose agenda is to undercut our doctrines from that pulpit. This was not the case with Bishop Jakes.