In Seventh-day Adventist theology
, there will be an end time remnant
of believers who are faithful to God.
The remnant church is a visible, historical, organized body characterized by obedience to the commandments of God and the possession of a unique end-time gospel proclamation. Adventists have traditionally equated this "remnant church" with the Seventh-day Adventist denomination. Some modern Adventists speak of a remnant message or similar, with less emphasis on the remnant as an institution. Others emphasize social activism within this concept, or reject the concept entirely.
A distinct but related concept is the eschatological remnant, which will be manifest shortly prior to the second coming of Jesus. The "remnant church" is understood to act as a catalyst for the formation of this group. The eschatological remnant will consist of some (but not all) constituents of the present "remnant church", together with a cohort of believers from other (that is, non-Adventist) churches. Only members of the eschatological remnant will be saved through the end-times.
The Adventist doctrine of the end-time remnant is based primarily upon Revelation 12:17, which states:
- "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." (King James Version, emphasis added)
The New International Version and other modern Bible translations often use "rest" in place of "remnant", yielding "...rest of her offspring..." or similar.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church has traditionally identified itself as the end-time "remnant church" described in Revelation 12:17. Two of the identifying marks of the remnant listed in this verse are that they "keep the commandments of God" and have the "testimony of Jesus". It is held that the "commandments of God" refer to the Ten Commandments
, which includes the fourth commandment regarding the seventh-day Sabbath
. In addition, Revelation 19:10 equates "the testimony of Jesus" to the "Spirit of prophecy", which Adventists believe is a reference to the ministry and writings of Ellen G. White
. The Adventist church is therefore unique in possessing these two identifying marks of the remnant church.
According to the historicist interpretation of Revelation traditionally employed by Adventists, the remnant church emerges after a period of 1260 years (Revelation 12:6) during which the Papacy reigns over Christendom. This period ended in 1798. The Seventh-day Adventist Church formed shortly afterwards, in the period 1844-1863.
The remnant church has a divine mission which is symbolised in the three angels' messages. This mission is to proclaim the "everlasting gospel" to humanity, to call true believers out of false religion (represented by Babylon) and to prepare the world for the final end-time crisis. Even so, at the present time, the remnant church is a visible institution that is made up of both saved and unsaved individuals (in other words, membership in the Adventist church is not a guarantee of salvation).
At a time (known technically as the "close of probation"), shortly before the second coming of Jesus, humanity will be polarized into two distinct groups. Adventists traditionally have taught that this polarization will occur over the Sabbath commandment. Those who are obedient to God in this final era will make up the "eschatological remnant" which will be saved through the final crisis. The eschatological remnant will have some continuity with the remnant church, in that there will be some Adventists who remain faithful in the crisis. However, it is understood that numerous Adventists will succumb to apostasy, thus departing from the remnant. At the same time, there will be numerous Christian believers from non-Adventist churches who will join the eschatological remnant and receive salvation.
The doctrine of the remnant is outlined in the 28 fundamental beliefs
of the Adventist church, as follows.
- "13. Remnant and Its Mission:
- The universal church is composed of all who truly believe in Christ, but in the last days, a time of widespread apostasy, a remnant has been called out to keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. This remnant announces the arrival of the judgment hour, proclaims salvation through Christ, and heralds the approach of His second advent. This proclamation is symbolized by the three angels of Revelation 14; it coincides with the work of judgment in heaven and results in a work of repentance and reform on earth. Every believer is called to have a personal part in this worldwide witness. (Rev. 12:17; 14:6-12; 18:1-4; 2 Cor. 5:10; Jude 3, 14; 1 Peter 1:16-19; 2 Peter 3:10-14; Rev. 21:1-14.)"
- "18. The Gift of Prophecy:
- One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is prophecy. This gift is an identifying mark of the remnant church and was manifested in the ministry of Ellen. G. White... (Joel 2:28, 29; Acts 2:14-21; Heb. 1:1-3; Rev. 12:17; 19:10.)"
Church manual and baptismal vow
The Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual contains a "summary of doctrinal beliefs" in its appendix that is designed especially for use in the instruction of candidates for baptism. The final point identifies the Adventist church with the "remnant":
- "28. In accordance with God’s uniform dealing with mankind, warning them of coming events that will vitally affect their destiny, He has sent forth a proclamation of the approaching return of Christ. This preparatory message is symbolized by the three angels’ messages of Revelation 14, and meets its fulfillment in the great Second Advent Movement today. This has brought forth the remnant, or Seventh-day Adventist Church, keeping the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus."
The church manual also outlines two alternative baptismal vows for candidates who are entering into church membership. The final question of the traditional longer vow (question 13) asks the candidate:
- "Do you accept and believe that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is the remnant church of Bible prophecy and that people of every nation, race and language are invited and accepted into its fellowship? Do you desire to be a member of this local congregation of the world church?"
Following baptism, the new member is presented with a "certificate of baptism and commitment" which contains a similarly worded statement, but expressed as an affirmation rather than a question.
In 2005, an alternative baptismal vow was approved at the General Conference Session. This alternative vow contains three statements of belief, and does not mention the remnant. However, it does still require acceptance of the Fundamental Beliefs. Which version to use is up to the discretion of the parties involved.
Earlier in the history of the church, it was common to simply focus on a few texts such as Revelation 12:17 and 19:10. More recently, the concept has broadened considerably to discuss all occurrences of the theme in the Bible. Gerhard Hasel
was a recognised remnant scholar within Christian circles at large, and assisted in this development.
In 2008, Roy Adams wrote in the official Adventist Review, "Today we hesitate to claim we’re the remnant". He also suggests "Laodicea" might apply to the whole Christian church, not just Adventists.
Adventist scholar Ángel Manuel Rodríguez
, who himself supports the traditional Adventist interpretation, has observed that its acceptance may be diminishing in the present day church:
- "it is with great concern that some observe a tendency to de-emphasize or ignore this fundamental self-definition".
Rodríguez identifies a number of different interpretations of the "remnant" that have gained popularity within contemporary Adventism. He proposes several reasons for the increasing redefinition of the concept, including increased contact with other Christians, the delay of the Parousia, theological education in non-Adventist universities, exposure to post-modern world views, and perceived apostasy in the Adventist church.
In The Shaking of Adventism, Anglican Geoffrey Paxton described the belief as follows:
- "[The Seventh-day Adventist] believes that God has called him to carry forward the message of the Reformation in such a way as no other Christian or Christian body is able to do. In his opinion the Seventh-day Adventist is God's special heir of the Reformers. Only through the Adventist Church can the work of the Reformation be carried to its God-designed end.
Some very conservative subgroups and breakaway groups of the Adventist church either consider themselves to be the remnant or come close to doing so. They hold a sort of "remnant within the remnant" view, believing the Adventist church as a whole has errors and apostasy.
Wider remnant / remnant message
In modern times some Adventists have broadened the "remnant" concept to include sincere Christians in other denominations. Such a broadening occurred as early as the publication of Questions on Doctrine
in 1957, where it is stated that "Seventh-day Adventists firmly believe that God has a precious remnant, a multitude of earnest, sincere believers, in every church, not excepting the Roman Catholic communion".
Many Adventists who hold a "wider" concept of the remnant nevertheless consider that the Adventist church has a unique place in God's purpose for the end times. Questions on Doctrine acknowledged the Adventist church as "the visible organization through which God is proclaiming this last special message to the world". Adventists such as Ross Cole speak of Adventists as possessing the "remnant message". These views focus more on the message of the remnant, and not on the Adventist church as an institution.
According to Ron Corson, many "progressive" Adventists believe in "An inclusion of other Christians into the category termed the 'Remnant.'
Jack Provonsha in " The Church as a Prophetic Minority" (published in Spectrum) believes the remnant is not yet a reality and will be fulfilled in the future.
To be classified: Hans LaRondelle believes Revelation 12:17 does refer to a "final remnant people" and not simply all believers in Jesus. He believes they are both institutional and invisible, and that the true church is described in two basic statements of faith and morality. These are repeated six times in Revelation, in 1:2,9; 6:9; 12:17; 14:12; and 20:4. He agrees with Kenneth Strand that "the word of God" and "the testimony of Jesus" are the Old and New Testaments.
Some Adventists have re-interpreted the remnant concept significantly. Steve Daily
rejects the identification of the "remnant" with any institution or denomination, and instead considers it to be an invisible entity. Angel Rodriguez criticizes Daily's position, claiming that "The level of discontinuity with traditional Adventism is so drastic that it is difficult to incorporate it into any meaningful dialogue."
Others have interpreted the remnant concept along sociological and political lines. It is argued that the remnant has a duty to work towards social and political reform. Some who espouse these views deny that the remnant is a religious body to be identified with any particular church. Rodriguez rejects such interpretations, asserting that they set aside "the biblical understanding of the remnant as fundamentally a religious entity".
Criticism of the remnant doctrine
The progressive journals Spectrum
and Adventist Today
commonly publish articles and letters which deny this doctrine, instead claiming that the remnant is much wider than the Adventist church. Rodríguez believes that a tendency to reject the remnant concept is related to a tendency to reject the historicist
method of interpreting prophecy.
Adventist Steve Daily has criticized the doctrine in his book Adventism for a New Generation:
- "...It is the mandate to stop thinking just of ourselves as "God's chosen people" and start recognizing the existence and ministry of "God's chosen peoples." It is a call to move from an ethnocentric remnant theology to a spirit of religious affirmation which acknowledges that the "kingdom of God on earth" transcends every religious movement of mankind, and rejoices that the future kingdom will include "many mansions." "
According to Adventist Ervin Taylor, "The view that the Seventh-day Adventist institutional church is 'the' remnant church of Biblical prophecy is a classic cultic, fundamentalist position.
Raymond Cottrell, writing about the challenges of producing the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, claimed that the remnant doctrine is not supported by the traditional prooftexts.
- "What should an editor do with 'proof texts' that inherently do not prove what is traditionally attributed to them—as, for example... and ... In most of these and a number of other passages, pastoral concern led us to conclude that the Commentary was not the place to make an issue of the Bible versus the traditional interpretation, much as this disappointed us as Bible scholars and would be a disappointment to our scholarly friends who know better.
Non-Adventists scholars naturally dispute the Adventist understanding of the remnant. Anthony Hoekema
argued that the doctrine of the remnant church is indefensible on both exegetical and theological grounds. Exegetically, the Greek word "remnant" (leimma
) is not found in Revelation 12:17 and thus it is not possible to read a "church within a church" into the verse. The translation "remnant" is an inaccuracy of the KJV
upon which the doctrine was originally based. Theologically, Adventists insist that the remnant is merely a visible body within the wider "invisible church
"; however there is no biblical or theological warrant for believing in the existence of an ecclesiola in ecclesia
, or "little church within the church". The concept of "remnant" in the New Testament, according to Hoekema, applies only to Jewish believers. The Adventist concept of the remnant resembles the error of schismatic movements such as Montanism
Hoekema finally concludes that the "remnant church" concept places Adventism among the cults, since it implies that the Adventist church is "the last true church left on earth, and all other groups which claim to be churches are not true but false churches." That is, it implies the existence of an "exclusive community", which Hoekema believes is a distinctive trait of the cults. However, because Adventists acknowledge that it is possible for non-Adventist Christians to be saved, they manifest the "cultist trait" in a "somewhat ambivalent manner" when compared to Jehovah's Witnesses and Christian Scientists who teach that salvation cannot be found outside their organisations.
Remnant concept in breakaway groups from Adventism
The Seventh Day Adventist Reform Movement
, which schismed from the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the 1920s, sees itself as the "remnant", the Adventist church represented by the "seed", and other Protestants as the "woman" in Revelation 12:17.
"Broad" or "remnant message" position:
Liberal and sociological positions:
- Remnant and Republic: Adventist Themes for Personal and Social Ethics, edited by Charles W. Teel, Jr (Loma Linda, California: Center for Christian Bioethics, 1995).
- "The Real Truth About the Remnant" (old link) by Charles Scriven.
- "Growing Up With John's Beasts: A Rite of Passage," Spectrum 21.3 (1991):25-34
- Roy Branson, "The Demand for New Ethical Vision" in Bioethics Today: A New Ethical Vision, edited by James Walters (Loma Linda, California: Loma Linda University Press, 1988), p. 13-27.
- The Peacemaking Remnant edited by Douglas Morgan (Adventist Peace Fellowship, 2005. ISBN 0977012603 Publisher's page). Contributors are Charles Scriven, Charles E. Bradford, Kendra Haloviak, Keith Burton, Zdravko Plantak, Ryan Bell, Ronald Osborn, and Douglas Morgan.
To be classified: