21 February 2022  |

Dear Aunt Sevvy,

Your advice is always so kind—keep up the good words. 

My question is: Why do Adventists have so many dos and don’ts?

Signed, Over ruled

Dear Over ruled,

As churches take on a distinctive identity, they naturally develop a list of beliefs that define themselves. Especially in conservative churches like ours, we’ve extended those beliefs into prohibitions and “doables.” After all, doesn’t the Bible tell us to behave according to certain principles?

But how difficult it is to communicate some of these ideas to millions of people around the world!

Take the Sabbath. It was designed as a protected time to foster relationships and lift the mental and physical load of daily work. Sabbath activities should reflect that original idea. How do you translate that into many cultures, languages, times, and locations? It is much easier to make a list of dos and don’ts rather than leave it up to individuals. So we say, don’t swim, don’t work, don’t watch TV, don’t eat in a restaurant. Do go to church, do read religious books, do talk about spiritual things with friends, do go hiking in nature.

A list of dos and don’ts is an oversimplification of more complex truths. Concepts that were meant to bless us become mere legalism, leading people to think that if they’ve kept the rule, they’ve pleased God, whether or not they’ve received the promised blessing. The end result is often resentment.

Jesus said just to look at things in quite the opposite way. Of the Sabbath, he reminded us that it was made for humankind’s blessing, not for humankind to be a slave to the rules of the Sabbath.

While not wanting to diminish the importance of family customs or spiritual disciplines, Aunty also knows that oversimplifying principles into rules can rob us of the blessing God wants us to have. The Sabbath doesn’t bring me closer to God if I’m simply following a checklist. It is a blessing if I focus on my relationships and on the gift of rest given to me by my Creator. 

By the way, we Adventists are hardly the first to fall into this trap. The Pharisees pioneered a do’s-and-don’ts approach to religion—and Jesus repeatedly reminded them that theirs was the wrong way to go about it.

Aunt Sevvy has long pushed back against such oversimplifications. She knows that a return to the true spirit of such matters will make some people uncomfortable; it is much easier to have a list than grapple with nuanced principles. But the blessings come when we follow the Spirit within us, rather than trying to pursue God’s blessings merely through oversimplified rules and demands.

Aunt Sevvy

You can write to Aunt Sevvy at DearAuntSevvy@gmail.com. Please keep questions or comments short. What you send us at this address won’t necessarily be, but could be, published—without identification of the writer. Aunt Sevvy writes her own column, and her opinions are not necessarily those of Adventist Today’s editors.

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