The fifty-ninth General Conference session in Atlanta is now history. The high point of the session was Elder Ted Wilson’s sermon on the last Sabbath of the conference. In the presence of about 70,000 members he delivered a programmatic and impressive sermon titled “Go Forward Not Backward” in which he addressed some of the important issues and challenges facing the church, including a reaffirmation of our doctrine of the remnant.
From the beginning, the idea that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is the remnant church of Bible prophecy has been important to our identity as Adventists. The rise of the Advent movement has been seen as the fulfillment of the prophesied remnant in Revelation 12:17, “And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.” (KJV). Of course, this identification of the Seventh-day Adventist Church with the remnant does not mean that only Adventists will be saved. God has his children in all Christian churches. Therefore, at the end of time, the call will go forth, “Come out of her [Babylon], my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues” (Rev 18:4). Any charge of exclusivism is, therefore, completely misplaced.
Not long ago, the Biblical Research Institute published a book that explores further the biblical and theological concept of the remnant.1 Written by a number of authors, it takes a thoughtful and comprehensive look at this very vital subject.
As a church, we have never taught that only Adventists will be saved. Just as Israel’s election was not an election to be an exclusive people of saved individuals but an election to service, so the remnant church is not an exclusive club of saved individuals, but a church with a specific mission. We believe that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is God’s visible end-time church that is charged with the task of proclaiming the Three Angels’ Messages to a dying world and preparing it for the Second Coming.
If we are only part of the remnant, as some believe, the question needs to be asked, how do the signs of the remnant church in Revelation 12:17—keeping the commandments and having the testimony of Jesus—fit any other Christian church? Which of the other churches keep all the commandments and have the genuine prophetic gift in their church? I do not know of any other church.
To reinterpret Revelation 12:17, in the way that some translations do, making the text say that the remnant “keep God’s commandments and maintain their testimony for Jesus” (NLT, italics mine) is highly problematic exegetically, as a thorough examination of the text itself 2 and a comparison with most other English translations show. There is an ample exegetical basis for our traditional view of this passage, that the Seventh-day Adventist Church did not come into existence by accident or through human effort, but is the prophetically foreseen remnant church of Revelation 12:17, raised up by God to proclaim the “everlasting gospel” in these last days as Heaven’s final appeal before Christ’s return. In spite of criticism from within and without, this understanding will continue to be held and proclaimed by the Seventh-day Adventist Church beyond Atlanta.
1 Ángel M. Rodríguez, ed., Toward a Theology of the Remnant (Studies in Adventist Ecclesiology 1; Silver Spring, Md.: Biblical Research Institute, 2009).
2 See Gerhard Pfandl, “The Remnant Church and the Spirit of Prophecy” in Symposium on Revelation—Book II (ed. Frank B. Holbrook; DARCOM 7; Silver Spring, Md.: Biblical Research Institute, 1992), 295-333.
Gerhard Pfandl is associate director for the Biblical Research Institute at the General Conference. This article has been reprinted, by permission, from Reflections, the BRI Newsletter, edited by Clinton Wahlen.