After the sharp comment from my Adventist colleague, the tension in the room hung in the air like a cloud that would never go away. Then a Lutheran colleague, soon to become Bishop of Oslo, spoke slowly and carefully to his Lutheran colleagues. He reminded them of several years of dialogue and mutual growth in understanding with their Adventist colleagues. He reminded them of seasons of prayer, heartfelt testimonies, a common love for Jesus and the gospel, growing friendships and growing appreciation for each other between the two groups. He reminded them of discussions over the Sabbath. Tensions arose then too, but he and his Lutheran colleagues had come to appreciate the beauty of the Sabbath and longed to see something similar happen in their churches. He reminded them of all the learning that had taken place together. Then he challenged them, “Are we willing to throw all that away because we struggle to appreciate one point?” It was one of the most humble and gracious speeches I have ever heard. Instead of reacting to the harsh comment from my colleague, he challenged his own colleagues to manifest the spirit of Jesus and welcome their brothers in spite of the temptation to react.
His comment was followed by similar statements from others on both sides. But as we were coming up to the noon hour and the meal that had been prepared, I could see that the German professor across the table was still distressed. I prayed earnestly that God might give me the right words to say before we broke for lunch. When the time came I asked for the last word (as the one whose paper had started the whole discussion that seemed appropriate to all). I turned to my German colleague and said, “You are worried for the future of your grandchildren. I understand that. I am just as worried for the future of my children. (I am a little younger than him) We wish we could make the right decisions for them, but we realize that in the end they will have to make their own decisions for or against the gospel. We can only watch and pray. Adventists do not believe that the message of the mark of the beast will only split other churches, we believe that it will split us too. We expect many among our ranks to end up on the wrong side at the end. Your grandchildren and my children will face the same decision. Will they follow the radical faith of Jesus no matter what the cost? Or will they take the easy route and follow the path of convenience and worldly approval? In that day Adventists and Lutherans and Catholics will face the same choice. While we Adventists may do it poorly at times, our mission is to prepare the world for that day and for that choice. On that day your grandchildren and my children will face that challenge on the same level.”
His eyes full of tears, the professor nodded and said, “I understand better now. You Adventists ARE being driven by the gospel to say things you feel need to be said. We Lutherans cannot give that message for you, we don’t see the Book of Revelation as you do. But it is clear to me that the unique message you have is one you are driven to present for God. You cannot do otherwise and be true to who you are. Do it wisely, but do it with our blessing. I acknowledge you as brother and sisters in Christ. Your faith in Him is real and it is true. I understand that now.” What a beautiful and gracious spirit the Lutherans extended to us that day. What a gift and a blessing they bestowed on us. Whenever I share the message of Revelation 13, I want to remember my Lutheran friends and their love and concern for us. I want to do it in the same spirit of love and grace toward those who will hear the message as the Lutherans did toward us.
Christians come in many stripes, but they are on a shared journey of discovering and recovering truth. Adventists have certainly taken the lead in the recovering of many truths, but the task is not done and our witness is not perfect. While we must remain true to Scripture, we also have much to learn about kindness, grace and mercy. And other Christians have sometimes been our best teachers in those areas. When it comes to the mark of the beast the key is not so much what we say but how we say it that counts.
To be concluded. . .