New Data: Views on the Doctrine of the Sanctuary

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If you were asked to explain the investigative judgment and the Adventist doctrine of the sanctuary, would you even know where to begin? While this topic is widely accepted in Adventist churches, it is a complex concept. The teaching, however, sets the foundation for many other Adventist beliefs and reinforces many ideas upon which the Adventist church is built.[1]

However, do church members embrace this doctrine? Moreover, do they truly understand it?

In 2013, a global survey of church members suggested that there was some degree of uncertainty about the sanctuary doctrine. For example, when asked what they thought of the belief that the pre-Advent Judgement began in 1844, only 62% of church members reported that they embraced it wholeheartedly. The rest of the sample reported feeling varying degrees of uncertainty on the subject: 13% said they accepted it because the Church teaches it, and one in ten respondents said they had some questions about it. Additionally, 5% of respondents said they had major doubts about this belief and the rest either didn’t accept it (6 %) or found it irrelevant (4%). 

In the 2018 version of this Global Church Member Survey (GCMS), researchers introduced more questions about the sanctuary given the apparent uncertainty expressed by church members worldwide in 2013. This time, on the same question about the investigative judgement (Q.45.02), slightly more members (64%) said that they accept it wholeheartedly and more people (18%) said that they accept it because the Church teaches it. Another 18% either have some questions on it, or major doubts about it, or did not accept it at all.

Members around the world were also asked to respond to the statement, “The Sanctuary doctrine is vital to Adventist theology” (Q42.28). Over half (56%) of respondents worldwide strongly agree with the statement, and another 31% reported that they agree with it. However, 10% admit that they are not sure, and 4% disagree to one degree or another.

Given the lingering confusion and uncertainty on the matter, one might wonder how often church members are instructed in or reminded of this foundational doctrine. Interestingly, when GCMS 2018 participants were asked how often they hear sermons on this topic (Q31.06), slightly more than half (53%) shared that they hear them frequently or very frequently. On the other hand, almost a third (32%) of respondents shared that they seldom hear sermons on the Sanctuary, while 7% never do. About one in ten (9%) were unsure.

While listening to sermons on foundational doctrine is important, it is even more vital that we weigh these ideas against what we know about God and what the Bible says. Claiming we are Adventists means that, yes, it is important for us to understand the beliefs that form the foundation of our church. However, God does not expect us – or even want us – to blindly accept doctrine; He desires to meet with us where we are and lead us to Truth through Bible study, prayer, and meditation. If you have not personally read through the verses pertaining to the investigative judgment and prayed that God would open your mind to His Truth, then perhaps it is time that you do so. This process will certainly serve as a faith-growing experience and add to your knowledge of what Christ is doing right now for us in the heavenly sanctuary!


To read further, check out our previous blog “Keep Christ in CHRISTmas” about members’ views of Christ as our Advocate in the heavenly sanctuary.

For more data on both 2013 and 2018 GCMS read the following presentations by Dr. David Trim from the Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research:

Annual Council 2013 Research Report, David Trim
2018 Annual Council - Global Church Member Survey Data Report | [Watch Video] 


Created in collaboration with the Institute of Church Ministry.