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Attending a religious service in a denomination other than your own is a very interesting experience. It is amazing how “normal” people take their model of worship to be, and how strange it feels to see other people treating their model of worship as normal. This paper relates to the experience garnered from attending a worship service at the Agape Seventh Day Adventist Church in St Louis, Missouri.
Reasons for Selecting a Seventh Day Adventist Church
The first reason that influenced the choice of an SDA church for this project was the desire to experience a religious service I have never attended before. Despite the fact that I have had a number of SDA friends at any point in my life, I found it interesting that I had never had the opportunity to visit with them at their churches. I have heard and read about many things that the denomination believes in but I have never experienced an SDA worship service. The second reason for making this choice was a personal fascination about the beliefs of the SDA church that I have had since childhood. The fact that the church meets on Saturdays, which they believe is the correct day to observe the Sabbath, makes the church unique.
Overview of the Service
The service at the Agape SDA church starts at 9 am, and goes all the way to one o’clock. Classes and meetings pick up after lunch and carry on until early evening. Part of the fundamental beliefs of the SDA church is that the Sabbath is a holy day, and one should not engage in any work on that day. They therefore spend the entire day at a worship service and carrying out other worship related activities.
There was a time for regular Christian worship activities such as singing of hymns, giving, prayers, and singing. The church uses hymnals for its worship songs, led by a member of the congregation. It also has a very skilled choir that has sung a number of spiritual songs in the course of the congregational service. The church leadership prepared and directed the payer sessions at the church. The issues forming the subject of the prayer included prayers for the country and the local issues affecting the immediate community of the church.
There was an emphasis on lifestyle issues in various parts of the service. The church is keen on lifestyle habits such as the type of food to eat. In particular, there was emphasis on eating plant-based diets as opposed to animal proteins. Other aspects stressed at the service included the need to keep the Sabbath holy. The main expression of this was attendance of the Sabbath at the church and desisting from work on the Sabbath along the general lines of the Old Testament Sabbath rules.
The sermon focused on the role of Adventists in a changing world. The speaker referred to prophetic messages in the bible and related them to the events taking place across the world such as social unrest, climate change, wars, drought and famine, and political upheavals. In the afternoon, there was a Sabbath class for different age groups each under the guidance of one of the church elders. The class used a universal book sent to all SDA’s worldwide to discuss specific issues affecting the development of the faith worldwide.
Similarities to Baptist Service
The major similarities between an SDA and a Baptist service are that they have the same general elements. The elements include the use of hymns in worship, the preaching of the word of God, giving, and the offering of prayers. These elements seem to have a place in most Christian denominations. In both churches, there is a visible commitment to the broader community seen like prayers offered. While the afternoon meetings in the SDA church form part of their worship, afternoon meetings in the Baptist church are elective. The similarity in this case is the presence of observances that might require full day presence at the church or on church related activities, in both places.
Differences to a Baptist Service
The differences that separated the SDA worship service from those of the Baptists include the day of worship, duration of the service and the emphasis on certain doctrinal issues. The SDA denomination worships on Saturday while the Baptists, along with a majority of Christians, attend their worship services on Sunday. Theological differences in the two faiths bring about the fundamental difference in beliefs regarding the day of worship. The SDA service also had a lot of emphasis on lifestyle issues such as what to eat, what to wear, and working on the Sabbath. Baptists on the other hand, tend to stress the regeneration of the heart by divine grace by the expression of baptism. The Baptists services also stress a personal relationship with God. My experience in the SDA church showed that the stress there is on the community of the church. Another important difference in the elements of worship is that in addition to hymns, Baptists take greater liberty in their choice of worship songs, with a mix of traditional and contemporary songs. The SDA denomination relies more on the traditional songs.
Queries from the Service
I have three queries from the service. The first one is how does the church view itself because a majority of Christian denominations worship on Saturday. Does it make the SDAs feel besieged and pressured to conform? The second query I have is how does the church balance its worship observances with societal norms? It is very common for workers to go to work on Saturdays. How does the church handle these issues? Thirdly, I wonder what the church thinks about the rest of Christendom that worships on Sunday, because one of its central claims is that God will use the observance of the Sabbath as the ultimate test of obedience, and it will make the difference between where people will spend eternity.
Upon reflection, I realize that some fundamental beliefs define the Christian faith. While Baptists got their name from their stress on Baptism as the symbol for receiving salvation, SDAs got their name for their stress in the Sabbath as the ultimate sign of commitment to God. I appreciate that each of the two denominations has a point in what it stresses, yet it is interesting to note just how different they appear externally. The Baptists go to church on Sundays and as such, it is their day of worship. They do not have elaborate rules such as those that SDAs have regarding the day. On the other hand, SDAs also practice baptism as part of their observance. It is a big event, if to judge from the announcement heard during the service, but it is not their defining feature.
The second thing that struck me when I attended the SDA service is that there is a genuine desire to serve God, just as I see in my Baptist church. People seemed sincere and were engaged in their worship activities with deep reverence. Their commitment to their observances showed in the way that they have adjusted their lifestyles to suit the demands of their denomination. This is very humbling. It almost feels as though they had a greater sense of commitment to their faith as compared to my Baptist brethren.
Finally, I realized that some of the views I had about SDAs were not well founded. For instance, I thought that the issue of the Sabbath would overwhelm any other message the church had. However, I realized that they cared about other things as well, such as the second coming of Christ, the moral decadence of the world, and the destruction of the environment. These are some of the central concerns in my Baptist church too. This makes me realize that there is a lot more in common between our faiths than we are aware. It raises interesting possibilities about how the two churches can cooperate for the common good of the Christian faith.