Navigating Denominational Diversity: Understanding Truth, Conviction, and Choice


At the gates of heaven stands a young Baptist, poised for check-in, with Gabriel, the gatekeeper.
“Name, please,” says Gabriel.
“Christian” responds the young man.

Handing him a key, Gabriel directs, “Here you go, you’re in mansion 11, proceed down the street, but as you are passing mansion 7 be very quiet”
Perplexed by the instruction, Christian follows it nonetheless.
Next in line is a young Methodist, ready to enter heaven’s gates.
“Name, please,” says Gabriel.
“Christina” replies the young Methodist.
Gabriel hands the methodist a key and says, “Here you go, you’re in mansion 22, head down the street, but as you are passing mansion 7 be very quiet.”
Though puzzled, Christina complies with the instructions.
Finally, a young Pentecostal is at the gate of heaven ready to Check in.
“Name, Please,” says Gabriel.
“Friend” answers the young Pentecostal.
Gabriel hands the Pentecostal a key and says, “Here you go, you’re in mansion 12, head down the street, but as you are passing mansion 7, especially you, be very quiet.”
Perplexed, the Pentecostal queries, “Why must I be quiet when passing mansion 7.”
Gabriel responds, “In mansion 7 are the Seventh Day Adventists, and they believe they are the sole occupants here”
While this satirical anecdote may have made you laugh, it also highlights a common misconception that only those who share our beliefs will enter heaven. This, however, is not true.

John 10:16, “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen…”, reminds us of the diverse nature of Christ’s followers.
The truth is that Christendom is a mosaic of theological beliefs. But if this is the case, what is the purpose of choosing a denomination, or identifying closely with a particular church? What is the purpose of being a Seventh-Day Adventist? By choosing a particular denomination am I disregarding God’s call for unity amongst all believers? These might be questions you are asking yourself, and I want you to know, that I’ve asked them as well.
Now, let’s delve into the purpose of denominations and why they exist. Growing up in the church I often heard the reason was some sort of nefarious plot of Lucifer to lead followers of Christ away from the truth. While I won’t deny that Satan has worked intentionally to fragment the church and distract us from the goal, I would also say, that using Satan as our trump card for every disruptive thing in the church is a terrible cop-out.
Let’s start with this theological understanding. The trajectory of truth.

Due to the finiteness of our minds, and our constant inability as humans to perceive what is good for ourselves and society, God, in His mercy, has revealed to us that which is true in progression. Humanity swings between what is God’s ideal and what God allows for a time. For example, God’s ideal for marriage was shown to us in the garden. That a man should leave his family and cling to one wife. However, throughout the Old Testament, we see examples of polygamy that aren’t condemned by God. Jesus later re-emphasizes that a man should cleave to his wife and the two would become one (Matthew 19: 4-6), pointing back to the ideal stance of monogamous marriage.

Truth is continually revealed to God’s people.

Another concept of this continual revelation of truth is the concept of Present Truth. The Seventh Day Adventist utilizes this phrase often. We tend to only use it in correlation to Ellen White. But what Present truth means is that God can & will reveal to us new things that can help us better understand his word and character. For example, the present truth for Martin Luther was that we are saved by grace through Jesus Christ and not through the church, a revolutionary idea that completely disrupted the status quo of the Church of Rome. The Lutheran Church would become a denomination that was built on a present truth of his time. And thus, denominations tend to come into existence when a group of people accept a truth and make it the cause of their existence. Luther’s work started the protestant movement, where people in the pursuit of truth, took what they learned and continued to develop more theology.
Does this make denominations a bad thing? I don’t think so, I believe that denominations are an expression of a collective conviction. The truth God has revealed to you at this time in your spiritual journey. A call to eradicate denominations would be to remove everyone’s ability to “be fully convinced in his own mind” (Romans 14:5).

Now, the pressing question arises: What factors should I consider when selecting a denomination?

There are three pillars to every denomination that you should be aware of. Every denomination has beliefs that are Salvific, Foundational, & Preferential. I don’t have an exhaustive understanding of every denomination and its beliefs, so I will utilize Seventh-Day Adventism to explain these pillars.
In Adventism, and what you should see in any denomination you interact with is this Salvific Truth. Jesus died for your sins, and through Him, you are saved. This truth is the only truth that grants you the gift of eternal life. As it says in 1 Corinthians, “Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance[a]: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,
By this gospel you are saved, not by a church, not by a set of theological ideas, not by dogma or doctrine, only by Christ. This is the truth you must find in every truth or denomination.

The second pillar is foundational. These are the truths or ideas that build up the foundation that our church stands on. For example, a few foundational truths for Seventh-Day Adventism are the investigative judgment, the sanctuary doctrine, or the doctrine of hell. These beliefs guide us in our theological journeys and give us a better understanding of our perception of God.

Foundational truths can be very important in our pursuit of truth. It can answer some of our most important questions and provide us with an understanding of a good God. This is where the present truth comes in. It’s here that the holy spirit will speak to you most. As you pursue Christ, which also leads you into the pursuit of truth, you will be convicted about certain beliefs and drawn towards denominations that answer your questions regarding what is presently true.

Finally, the third pillar is preferential. These are things that do not determine our salvation or provide any theological truths that are significant for doctrine. These are things that are a production of one’s journey towards Christ. An example would be health or dress reform. These preferential things should never be used to prove someone’s salvation, but they are an outcome of your convictions. If you feel that Christ is calling you to a cleaner diet, or to modest dress, that is a good thing, but it becomes a bad thing when we make it the essence of our denomination or beliefs.

With these three pillars, it can help you better navigate the over 40,000 Christian denominations worldwide.
Now, for me, I am an Adventist today because I believe that the holy spirit has led me to a better understanding of the gospel through Seventh-Day Adventism. I believe that we are a church that is in pursuit of the present truth. The questions I’ve had regarding the bible have often been answered through the foundational truths that are taught within our church. To me, joining this denomination was a matter of personal conviction in my pursuit of truth. Most Seventh-Day Adventist young adults and youth, have been born and raised in this church. Most of us have never made an educated decision regarding our church membership. We’ve inherited our faith from our parents. One thing I’ve learned is that God does not have any grandchildren. We cannot inherit what we believe we must decide for ourselves. My petition to you is that you will investigate what we believe, and ask for the holy spirits guidance. Decide which church you will be a part of not because someone told you this is the right church but rather because you believe it and know it.

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