The Season of Adventists: Can Ben Carson's Church Stay Separatist amid Booming Growth?
Image: Photos by Ellen G. White Estate and BGEA / DeMoss

One of the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s most famous sons, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, is seeking evangelical support for a likely 2016 presidential bid. But the global leader of his church worries that the thriving denomination is becoming too mainstream.

In 2014, for the 10th year in a row, more than 1 million people became Adventists, hitting a record 18.1 million members. Adventism is now the fifth-largest Christian communion worldwide, after Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Anglicanism, and the Assemblies of God.

But even as Adventist schools and hospitals spread, president Ted N. C. Wilson is concerned about assimilation.

“Don’t be tempted by the Devil to blend in with the crowd or be ‘politically correct,’ ” Wilson said during his annual sermon in October. “Don’t proclaim a ‘generic’ Christianity or a ‘cheap-grace Christ,’ which does not point to the distinctive biblical truths to be declared worldwide” by Adventists (who regard themselves as God’s faithful remnant).

Wilson listed ways that Satan is attacking Adventism, including attempts to make it easier to join; advancing Pentecostal worship styles; and people moving “independently” from the main church.

Many of those warnings seemed aimed at the global church’s North American Division (NAD). (Though only about 1 million Adventists live in North America, they send out nearly half of the church’s missionaries and operate 13 of its colleges.) Many NAD members are seeking more dialogue with mainstream evangelicals. The NAD has also overwhelmingly approved women’s ordination, despite a global denominational ban.

Some Adventists worry ...

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