Global Perspectives on Righteousness by Faith and the State of the Dead

How well do you understand the principles of the Scriptures that are fundamental to our Church? Do you hear sermons on various topics that are applicable to your daily life and help you to better understand such principles? Today we like to take a closer look at some specific findings that were revealed through the 2017-18 Global Church Member Survey on the topic of misunderstood doctrines. Are topics like the State of the Dead and Righteousness by Faith truly understood by Adventist church members around the world? Let's take a look.

Blog June 15, 2022

Throughout the New Testament, we see multiple warnings against being deceived:

  • Hebrews 13:9a: Stop being carried away by all kinds of unusual teachings . . .
  • Ephesians 5:6: Don’t let anyone deceive you with meaningless words. 
  • 2 Thessalonians 2:3: Don’t let anyone deceive you about this in any way.
  • Colossians 2:8: Be careful that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition, based on the elemental forces of the world, and not based on Christ.

Satan is so good at shrouding his lies in truth or masking truth with emotions; it is vitally important that we, as Christians, carefully study the Scriptures for ourselves so that we have a clear understanding of God’s Word. Attending a church where these important truths are proclaimed is also very important.

However, are there specific Adventist doctrines that are misunderstood, even though they are frequent sermon topics? The Global Church Member Survey 2017–2018 (2017–18 GCMS) sought to discover just that.

Righteousness by Faith

The 2017–18 GCMS data determined that overall, over two-thirds (70%) of respondents reported that they very frequently or frequently heard sermons on righteousness by faith. Respondents in the Euro-Asia Division (78%) and West-Central Africa Division (78%) reported the highest numbers of sermons on this topic, while respondents from the South American Division reported the lowest numbers (64%).

The data shows that this topic is frequently preached from the pulpit; however, a significant number of people’s responses indicated that they believed otherwise. When asked to respond to the statement, “I will not get to heaven unless I obey God’s law perfectly,” 65% of the respondents agreed globally to one degree or another. While the numbers do vary widely between Divisions, it is still concerning that so many members worldwide feel that they must, themselves, be perfect in order to be saved. This shows that while preaching on this topic, pastors should clarify more what salvation by grace means.

State of the Dead

Another area researched were the global views on the State of the Dead. Worldwide, less than half (45%) of respondents shared that their pastor preached sermons on this topic very frequently or frequently. Respondents in the Northern Asia-Pacific Division (61%) were most likely to often hear sermons on this topic, while those in the Trans‑European Division (20%) were least likely to hear about this topic from the pulpit.

To investigate how this doctrine is understood, researchers asked some additional questions. When members were asked to respond to the statement, “When people die, their bodily remains decay and they have no consciousness or activity until they are resurrected,” a majority (90%) of survey participants agreed to one degree or another.

However, when members were asked if they believed that “people who have died believing in Christ are in heaven right now,” overall, one in five respondents (20%) agreed to one degree or another. When this question was cross-tabulated by Division, it became clear that members in some Divisions agreed more strongly than others with this statement, indicating that they believed that the dead in Christ are in heaven today. We see such results in the Southern Asia Division (60%), the Southern Asia-Pacific Division (32%), the East-Central Africa Division (19%), the West-Central Africa Division (20%), and the South American Division (22%). Much of this conflicted belief system is likely due to the prevailing religious values in their context. Remarkably, almost all (96%) members from the North American Division disagreed with this statement, along with the members in the Trans-European Division (93%).

Teaching Beyond Preaching

Interestingly, the State of the Dead doctrine is the least preached doctrine in our churches. No less interesting is the fact that the Righteousness by Faith is among the most preached doctrines. However, misunderstandings happened in both categories—frequently preached and seldom preached topics. Thus, although the number of sermons on the State of the Dead and the application of the doctrine of salvation by grace alone should increase, it is apparent that preaching is not enough. It should go along with teaching, clarification, visitation of members at their homes, and the establishment of appropriate practices.

In John 8:32, Jesus said: “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” How can the truth—in this case, important biblical doctrine—be buried in our hearts beyond preaching? For those who believe that they have to earn their salvation or that the dead are in heaven right now, both their head (knowledge) and heart (feelings) must be molded. While this is ultimately the work of the Holy Spirit, modeling and mentoring (i.e., bonding with someone they know and trust) are vital elements that we should not ignore.

Created in collaboration with the Institute of Church Ministry

Published by ASTR on 06-15-2022