Connecting Columbia Union Seventh-day Adventists

Editorial: Know Nothing Adventists

Know Nothing Adventists
Editorial by Ray Hartwell, president of the Pennsylvania Conference

RayHartwell_13One of most unique political parties to arise in American history was the Know Nothing Party in the 1850s that championed several causes. When a member was asked about its activities, he was to say, “I know nothing.” Members of this group included Massachusetts and Pennsylvania congressmen as well as a former United States president. While their secretive nature was not admirable, they demonstrated great concern for America’s safety.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church grew up during that era of causes, issues and reform movements. Our own spiritual history was influenced by the Millerite movement, health reform, dress reform, the temperance movement, the fight to educate former slaves and the opposition to Sunday laws.

In the 1880s, as reported in The Ellen G. White Encyclopedia (p. 333), the Adventist Church faced a major division over law and grace, with long-time church officials appealing to delegates at the 1888 General Conference Session to “stand by the old landmarks,” while younger men like A.T. Jones and E.J. Waggoner presented “righteousness by faith.” To some it appeared the church might divide over this issue and fall apart.

I remember studying for the ministry and the question over the sanctu- ary message and the investigative judgment was hot and heavy. Some of my seminary classmates followed a charismatic teacher from Australia and decided they could no longer serve for a church that held the message of an investigative judgment or taught the 2,300-day prophecy. My wife and I carefully studied the sanctuary message again and saw Christ and His redemptive work flowing through this message.

Even today members ask me where the church stands on passionate issues. Perhaps it’s time for the Adventist Church to revive an early Christian church movement.


At this season of the year, when we especially dwell on the birth of Christ, let’s remember that the crèche that held the incarnate, infant Lord holding His hands up to His earthly mother was just the first step toward a cross where He held His arms out for the world. That is the message, the cause, the issue that this world needs to be more passionate about than anything else. That is why the apostle Paul said, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him cruci- fied” (1 Cor. 2:2, NIV).

Today, as Adventists, let us take up the mission of Jesus and commit to anything that furthers His mission. And, let us affirm and encourage anyone—young or old, male or female—who will put their hands to the task of spreading the message of the next Advent of Jesus Christ. No one should be exempt from that important work: “Not a hand should
be bound, not a soul discouraged, not a voice should be hushed” (Review and Herald, July 9, 1895).

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we became known as Know Nothing Adventists? Our “knowing nothing” wouldn’t be about secrecy. Instead, when people tried to engage us in debatable issues, we would simply say, “My ultimate position—that I am willing to live and die for—is to ‘know nothing except Christ and Him crucified.’”

Ray Hartwell is president of the Pennsylvania Conference.

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