Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Friday, August 10, 2007

Conference recommended ways to really kill your church

Recently Jere Patzer wrote an Editorial in The Gleaner which demonstrates some of the wrong thinking that exists in our denomination. He writes in the form of opposites, that is he is telling you how to kill the church so that if you want to make your church live you should do the opposite of the things he says. As you will see it is certainly a safer way of saying the rather unintelligent things he means. I will intersperse my comments with those from his Editorial.

Top Ten Ways to Kill Your Church

Institutionalize. Make sure that the majority of the church budget is used to maintain the existing programs and structure. Don't spend too much on outreach. When the Waldensians who had lived and died for their faith for centuries joined the general Protestant Reformation in 1532, they went from a movement to an institution and lost their focus. But history won't repeat itself.

I don’t really know what he means here. The Waldensians were rebellious against several Roman Catholic Church positions (rejection of purgatory and the intercession for the dead. About 1530 the Waldenses took up contact with the Reformed Protestant reformer Wilhelm Farel and in 1532 officially joined the Reformation at the Synod of Chanferan.
Even then some of the Waldensians went back to their valleys and today there is still a Waldensian subset of Christians though they are small. They never really became institutionalized. Certainly never as institutionalized as say the SDA church. The Reformation was a far greater movement the Waldensians.

Be apologetic about our Seventh-day Adventist name. Successful organizations like McDonalds, Honda or Nordstrom wouldn't think of promoting their logo. So call your church or school something generic like the Community of Happy Friends Fellowship. Maybe someone will inadvertently wander in and then a year or two later you can tell them who you are.

This is interesting when you consider it has been a pretty long running technique of our Revelation Seminars to not place the SDA name anywhere on the brochure. Two of the more successful (meaning large) churches in my area are called Living Water and Capital Christian Center. Unless you research their website you do not know that Living Water is a Foursquare denomination. Denominational affiliation is likely not that terribly important to many people who look more at what the church offers over what their denomination is. Adventist having grown up believing themselves to be the Remnant find the denomination far more important then most other non fundamentalist Christians. A recent survey found that preschoolers preferred fries in a McDonald’s package over the same fries in a cup. For Christians however there are more important factors then a logo.

Don't emphasize mission or mission offerings. Ellen G. White was wrong when she said the best way to strengthen the home field is to invest in foreign missions. After all, charity begins at home. And by all means don't show the quarterly Northwest Spotlight on Mission DVD that comes to your church highlighting stories close to home.

It is highly doubtful that not showing mission spotlight slide shows and DVD’s is going to kill the church. Foreign mission or local mission should be up to the local church. We too often think that foreign missions are more important and we often waste considerable money in organizing mission trips to foreign countries to do construction projects which if we simply sent them the money could be built better and quicker and more cheaply by the locals. Yet we find it hard to raise the money unless some from the local church go on a mission trip.

Lower the standards. We don't want anyone to feel disenfranchised. Robinson Crusoe didn't know what he was talking about when he said, "Expand the fences too far and the goats on the inside become as wild as the goats on the outside." It doesn't really matter what your members eat, drink or do.

Standards are still important but often times we create artificial standards which involve what people eat or drink or do. Biblical standards are often different from what many SDA’s may think of as their traditional standards. Saying “lower the standards” is often a euphemism for holding to traditional and often prejudicial standards.

Make music the war department. Use the same style all the time. Just repeat sweet little praise ditties each week. And definitely don't use hymns that reinforce our fundamental beliefs. Always remember upbeat music is from the devil. Or only sing 1800s songs with four-finger accompaniment. That will make the older saints drool for the good old days.

This is the first real issue that has the potential to kill a church, though more likely it will split a church

Public evangelism is passé. Systematic reaping meetings are too confrontational. Besides, the evangelist might use some proof texts. Don't ever emphasize prophecy; the public has no interest in future events. Limit evangelism to something creative: knitting evangelism, beach evangelism, golf evangelism. Eventually someone may hit their golf ball into the church parking lot. Then you've got them.

If one pays attention to the results of most evangelistic programs they would see that they generally have very poor results. I don’t know the statistic but it would seem that Patzer could have backed up his statement if the numbers really indicated his statement. Do you know what a Systematic reaping meeting is? Well neither do I, and I grew up in the SDA church.

If the evangelist does use proof texts he should be corrected as they are often texts taken out of context and used as a pretext for a presupposed idea. Prophecy has been so misused that even though people have an interest in the future the many varied prophetic interpretations have so frequently been proven wrong that it is really a technique that succeeds only with those who are predisposed to certain prophetic views. One of the problems with are evangelistic efforts is that we think people we stay once we get them into our churches. But more likely we don’t cultivate the friendships and stimulate their thinking to cause them to remain in our churches.

Doctrinal pluralism will maintain church unity. The Presbyterian Church lost 1.2 million members in 21 years because it chose pluralism and became "devoid of a clear theological voice," according to the award-winning book, The Presbyterian Controversy. But that doesn't mean it would happen to Adventists. So just pick which of the 28 fundamental beliefs you like from our theological cafeteria.

This is the crux of the problem with Jere Patzer’s views. Hidden behind the coattails of the fact that mainline Christian denominations are losing members he insinuates that the reason is because they allow different views within their denomination. In fact Christianity in all first world countries is declining. Drastically in places like Europe. It used to be the SDA church said the Bible was our creed, well we do still say that but in point of applicable fact we have replaced conscience driven Biblical interpretation with a list of 28 so called fundamentals. Today there is a large section of Traditional SDA’s who claim that Adventists must bow the knee to the denominations incursion of determining religious truth. It reminds me of the pre-reformation Roman Catholic Church.

Never discipline. Families and churches are much stronger and happier without any discipline. The Gospel song was all wrong when it says, "If mercy's all we ever show, there's half a God they'll never know."

Related to the authoritarian views in the previous point about following the 28 fundamentals, comes the strong hand of discipline against any dissension. Submit your selves to the self appointed authority and everything will be so much better. Shades of the Inquisition as they sing "If mercy's all we ever show, there's half a God they'll never know." I don’t know the song, I looked up those words on the internet and could only find them referenced in the Gleaner article.

Ignore the inspired writings. Ellen G. White predicted her teachings would become of "non-effect." Make the red books the unread books. Consider her teachings devotional but not authoritative, particularly in areas of science and archeology. Remember how effective they were as "Club of the Month books."

I am very worried that we have a conference leader that implies that we should take Ellen Whites books as authoritative particularly in the areas of science and archeology, I certainly hope he has nothing to do with our educational system. It is a sad fact that among many traditional SDA’s the Bible is the real unread book and they have left it’s interpretation up to the 19th century writer. If we as a Christian church cannot find our doctrines in the Bible then we will deserve the derogatory label of cult. Once again this is related to the emphasis Patzer has placed upon the 28 fundamentals where Ellen White is said to be an authority on truth. To keep our churches alive we must teach what in many cases time and study have proven wrong. Do you really want to tell you children that volcanoes are caused by underground coal fires or that animals bred with man and the results can still be seen in some races of men today?

De-emphasize the distinctives. Dean Kelley, a Methodist guest lecturer at Andrews University, said, "…Tithing, the seventh-day Sabbath, foot washing, etc., are the things that make the Seventh-day Adventist Church unique, distinctive and demanding. How can the Seventh-day Adventist Church stop growing? Be like the Methodists." Kelley was a Methodist, so what does he know about Adventists?

Once again it is the traditional beliefs that will make our church live. If our distinctive was love rather then ritual Sabbath day observance and foot washing we would be a far more distinctive church. But like the Pharisees it is the rituals and the statements of belief that are so much easier to produce then the friendship, love and reasonable understandings of God. Can’t we be distinctive with a preaching of the gospel to the world? At a time when so many misunderstand God would not it be wonderful if our churches distinction was that we taught about a God of love and acceptance and healing as opposed to the God of wrath and oppression and vengeance of torment. Yes so many churches do teach of a God of love yet they present a mixed view in which God must inflict a penalty to forgive and if obedience is not obtained this God of love kills or worse.

If your church is currently not experiencing growth, or worse, has a decline in attendance, be honest. Ask some tough questions. Take this list to your next church board meeting and discuss it during the devotional time. And if any of these "suggestions" apply to your church, for heaven's sake, change it. It's too late in earth's history to be just playing church.

Jere Patzer, North Pacific Union Conference president, writes from Ridgefield, Washington.

I hope that you do take this list to your next board meeting or Sabbath school or prayer meeting. But please take along this article as well. This is a critical time for Christians in the world particularly now that Christianity is so attacked and weakened. We are at a time when our traditional responses are failing miserably, not just in the SDA church but across the entire Christian religious world. We have the opportunity to change the world, if only we have the courage to change.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So here we have no more then the same old song intended to stir up sentiment in a segment (possibly a segment with money to donate) of the constituency. Making statements in the form of opposites is a very handy approach. It assumes the opposite is true but having had not made the opposite statement as fact there is no demand of proof.

Dick Larsen

On the aspect of the Seventh-day Adventist name, it can be changed or not changed locally but in all the posturing the question to be really addressed is how many people that we claim we are seeking can make any sense of our name? If it nonsensical then, although it denominational affiliation shouldn’t be hidden, it would much better serve a church's purpose to have an comprehendible name.