Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Friday, February 29, 2008

The Graying of North American Adventists

The following is from Center for Creative Ministry Newsletter.

To refresh your memory, the opening statement of the original article said, “The median age for the Seventh-day Adventist community in North America, including the unbaptized children in church families, is 58. The median age for the general public is 36 in the U.S. and 37 in Canada. Among native-born White and Black members the median age is even higher.”

Some told us that they had read in the Adventist Review and elsewhere that the majority of Seventh-day Adventists are under 30 years of age. Keep in mind that those statements are about the worldwide membership; the information we shared is only for North America. The source of that worldwide information is a survey of youth leaders, not direct research with church members. What you’re reading is reflective of Adventist membership in Africa, Asia and Latin America, which is largely comprised of teens and young adults. But when it comes to North America, Europe and Australia, the evidence tells us another story.

Others wanted to know the source of the information we published. We actually gathered information from several different studies. The median age of 58 for Adventists in North America is from a forthcoming study by Dr. Ron Lawson, professor of sociology at the City University of New York, who has published a number of articles in academic journals about the sociology and demographics of the Adventist Church. The median ages for the general population in the U.S. and Canada, we got from the respective census web sites of those two nations. The fact that more than 1,000 Adventist congregations in North America have no children or youth comes from an unpublished survey that the Center for Creative Ministry did for NAD Church Resources in 1997.

That is a rather amazing statistic because that means that over half of the North American Adventists are older then 58 years of Age. When we consider that the future of the church is held on the other side of that median we really should be thinking about how we reach out to the post modern world and our own post modern children.

Here are some statistics from Canada developed from 2001 data:

Median age of Protestants well above national level

The median age of individuals who identified themselves as Protestant in 2001 was 42 years, well above the median of 37 for the Canadian population as a whole. (Median age is the point where exactly one-half of the population is older, and the other half is younger.)

Those who identified themselves as Anglican had a median age of 44, as did United Church members. Lutherans had a median age of 43, while Presbyterians were the oldest, with a median age of 46.

Conversely, Protestant denominations recording growth were generally younger. The median age of those reporting Hutterite as their religion in 2001 was 22 years. For Mormons, the median was 29; Christian and Missionary Alliance, 34.5; and Adventists, 35.5. All were below the median for the total population.

Assuming Ron Lawson is correct and we have not seen the data yet, that is a huge difference between the Canadian numbers and the United States numbers. In fact possibly too big a gap to be believed. Though Adventists in Canada represent an even smaller percentage of the population then in the U.S.

Canadian Adventist Statistics: Churches, 341; membership, 57,431; population, 32,950,000 about 0.17% of population

United States Adventist statistics 2001: 724,000 self identified 0.3% of population.

Today the SDA church is estimating their U.S. membership at 1 million.

The discrepancy may be caused by a predominance of immigrants in Canada which tend to have younger Adventist characteristics as those in Asia and Africa etc. Though that is only speculation on my part. I do know that the church my wifes relatives attend is very small, mainly elderly and rural.

Hopefully we will see more about these statistics in the not to distant future.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Quotes from Steven Mosley

I got this from an internet friend and thought it was a good follow-up to my last post. Sorry he did not provide page numbers.

"Some people are just not very expressive. Thier melancholy temperament has made them introspective and solemn. That's OK. What's not OK, however, is to create a picture of God that is stern, severe and grumpy out of that limited personality and demand that others bow down to it. It's not OK to create worship in your image and demand that others follow it or be damned as rebellious."

"Judgmental people are critical, gossipy and cruel. Judgmental people create unhealthy religion. It's something that needs to be confronted in church. Judgmental people shouldn't be in charge. They should not hold church office, they should not be voices that we obey. We shouldn't mistake intimidation for conviction. We shouldn't mistake bluntness for insight. We shouldn't mistake someone who seems stricter than us for someone who is closer to God than us."

"Dysfunctional people violate boundaries. They get bent out of shape when everyone else doesn't tow the line-their line. It's not OK for another member to have a different opinion about the investigative judgement or Sabbath observance. They have to straighten that person out. They have to sabotage their ministry if this 'enemy' is in a position of leadership. It's not OK if someone sings special music in a sleevless dress. They have to complain about it to member after member until the singer is appropriately embarrassed and changes her ways. It's not OK if the church votes to lay down new magenta carpet in the sanctuary if they want blue. They have to embark on a campaign to change this terrible error in hue. Controllers manipulate others in countless ways. They try to make other people feel guilty in countless ways. They draw lines between enemies and friends in countless ways. The tradgedy is that unhealthy people rise to the top in so many congregations. Needy people desperately want to be Sabbath School superintendent or head elder or chairperson of the church board. They are eager for these positions of honor and influence. They desperately need approval; they need affirmation. They can't love and be loved so they have to control. So, in church after church we end up with rigid superintendents, bullying head elders and manipulative chairpersons. "

"Healthy people can be flexible. Unhealthy people can't. They are obsessed with how things should be. Things have to be a certain way.. Sabbath School and church have to proceed in a certain way or it just isn't worship. The music they are comfortable with has to be played or it's just false worship. So guess who ends up shaping the our church services? This wreaks havoc on churches; it destroys the joy of worship, the joy of fellowship. Controlling people, in fact, create dysfunctiuonal churches that no healthy person in thier right mind would ever join. "

Mosley devotes a whole chapter that deals with solutions entitled Setting People Free. Here are a couple of excerpts:

"Some engage in serving others because they have to be needed. They don't develop healthy relationships with equals-only subordinates. They create paternalistic relationships. They need others to be dependent. They are traumatized when they can't hold on to certain positions or 'turf' within the church. The most loving thing a church can do is confront these individuals about thier problem. It's not helpful to simply enable them to dig into thier 'turf'. They need to be confronted-privately, directly, and compassionately-according to the principals Jesus laid down in Matthew 18: 15-17."

"We have to start building the right kind of churches by starting with the right kind of relationships. We can't sit back anymore and just let the needy and the controlling speak and act for the church. We need to have healthy, as well as doctrinally sound, individuals in charge."

"Obviously judgmental people shouldn't determine the kind of worship that takes place in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. But no one kind of people should. We have got to stop demonizing people and things we are not comfortable with. The things that annoy us may be just the kind of language, style or approach someone else needs to hear. Sometimes we need to create more than one kind of worship service in a church to meet different needs. But through all of this, it's important to remember that the diversity of members in the body of Christ is something that reflects the breadth of God's character and personality. It is something to be cherished, not feared. The diversity of tastes does not have to be a battleground. It can remind us that God is bigger than anything we can imagine or express, that no church can contain His wonder and mystery."

"That's the bottom line behind a lot of theological smoke that has blown up around this or that kind of worship. People may think they are waging a battle for the 'truth' or for a 'pure' church. But too often they are just documenting the narrowness of thier hearts. They instinctively want everyone else to fit into thier painfully limited worship repertoire. They can't bear the idea of others exulting freely in the Lord when they can only mourn and 'sigh and cry for the abominations done in the church.' It doesn't seem that these celebrants can possibly have genuine religion. The chronic mourners have laboured so long and hard in thier attempts to serve the Lord-with so little joy to show for it. Surely it can't be true that joy could fall so abundantly on others who are much less worthy."

From the Back Cover
How do you feel about your church body? Does it fill you up with spiritual enthusiasm? Does it create an irrepressible joy for salvation? Does it nurture a healing love? If, sometimes, it doesn't--this is a great book for you.

Steve Mosley doesn't circle the issue?he hits the nail straight on the head. He's refreshingly honest. Refreshingly direct. Easily holding your interest with illustrations and examples, Steve shows you the distinction between an unhealthy religion of "avoiding sin" and a healthy religion that seeks God. One weakens Adventist worship--the other strengthens and invigorates. One is controlling?the other is loving. It's no wonder that sometimes you're burned our--where's the love to fuel the fire?

Loving each other is what a living, vibrant church is all about?and it starts with you and me There can be a change. This book helps you spark the healing love that the source of positive Christianity: "Love creates healthy religion. There's no substitute . . . Everything else is counterfeit. Everything else eventually burns out."

Know God. Know the love

Saturday, February 23, 2008

“Theologolatry”—making an idol of our own theology

The title of this post comes from an article published at Progressive Adventism Blog, The article is a presentation at the 50th Anniversary Question on Doctrines conference by Fritz Guy entitled:

The Saga of Questions on Doctrines and the Adventist Future

I am often troubled by some of the things I read about happening in the Adventists church. In a recent discussion on a forum I will not mention because I think overall the majority of people there are toxic I posted a defense against the claim that Roman Catholics worship Mary. I felt pretty comfortable posting the material from the Catholic church which says that they don't worship Mary yet to the majority on the forum it matters little what they Roman Catholics themselves say but what the anti-Catholics say. Of course to the Protestant mind all the Roman Catholic Mariology is silly, but to these traditional SDA's by saying that Roman Catholics worship Mary and bow and worship idols they move from silly to saying "look if they are not worshiping God they are worshiping the devil." They have moved to take fellow Christians away from the community of Christianity.

How big is your God? Can you serve God if you have some wrong theology, which by the way I can assure you is true of every human being alive from Old Testament to today. God alone is perfect and even when God was incarnate He was hindered by having to communicate to people who were often stuck in their traditions. Think of all those people in the middle ages who only had the words of their priests and the theology of abuse of the rich over the poor. I often think of the two greatest problems in Christianity, the idea of a God who would eternally torment those not saved and the idea that God can't forgive until He punishes someone. Yet in reality there are people who accept and embrace both of those problems and love God and trust Him. Granted I could never believe those things and be a Christian, but I love that God can still develop a relationship with people even when their views are so problematic.

So I am therefore left in the position of saying that God reaches us where we are and while I am sure like any good parent He wants us to grow and mature our retardation does not stop His relationship with us. We are crippled, sick and defective; the kind of people God came to save. But very clearly His salvation has not been by way of excellent theology. The better our theology the more likely we are to see the love that God has for us and the more likely we are going to be to share that love with others. My old internet friend Elaine said in her comment at the above Progressive Adventism blog this:

"Rabbi Hillel was more than correct when he answered the young seminarian who asked if he could recite the whole Torah while standing on one foot, and he said "Do not do to others what you would not wish done to you. All the rest is commentary." But, oh, how the rabbis, both Jewish and Christian, love to argue the fine points of Scripture as if they were of life-saving importance. They ignore the simple to argue the 'finer' points'?"

I enjoy arguing the finer points it is how I get to know people and they get to know me. It is how I sharpen my thinking and how I rethink my positions. It is a fellowship I enjoy but it is not salvation it is only part, a small part of what it means to be a Christian. As Fritz Guy said in his article:

"We can listen to each other even—no, especially—when we disagree, remembering that no one in the conversation is wholly wrong, and that if we are willing we can learn from anyone. We can encourage theological experiments. We can consider new understandings, new ways of thinking that just might turn out to be "present truth" for Adventists in the 21st century."

We grow in the conversation, unless we discount those with different views, unless we accuse them of being of the devil. We live in a world where so many people are in need of someone to talk to about their lives and what is important to them. The Christian church is the ideal place to bring together these people with Christians, Christians who need the interpersonal relations with other people just as much as the person living outside of Christianity. We can fill the void with so many things, entertainments that don't need another person TV, movies, video games, music, drinking or drugs, often we try and fix the symptom but never bother with the disease. We are not offering our fellow human beings the comfort that our God asks us to give them. Christianity is dying because we don't offer a God the loves and we don't love, often we don't even try to show interest.

Someday I hope to find a church family who is interesting in being innovative in putting the simple idea of talking to people, really talking, not saying "how are you today" or "welcome to our church". A church that does not stress passive listening to some Pastor no matter how well intentioned he is drag them through a sermon. A church that leads to people talking and getting to know and love each other whether they agree on theology or not.

That is my dream…or maybe that is my curse I don't know yet.

[In my next few blog articles I will go over the new book entitled UnChristian. I have only read the first chapter but I can tell that the major problem it will reveal is that Christians are losing to the world because we are not showing the love and care that is so needed in this world.]

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Kees Kraayenoord’s Broken Review

Recently I was contacted by Kees Kraayenoord which got me thinking that I have not reviewed any of his Albums here. When I wrote back to him I mentioned that other than his song God of the Moon and Stars I really could not name any of his songs. So I decided to listen to his album Broken more carefully and write my impressions.

Kees Kraayenoord's music is very worshipful but not the kind that lends itself to worship choruses. It is not as upbeat as much of the modern worship genre, more in line with the slower material of Matt Redman or Tim Hughes. His music is not in the main as soft as the above linked song "God of the Moon and Stars". I like the more upbeat songs such as" Your Amazing Love", "Offering" and "All That I Want" on Broken but there is something emotionally appealing with his mix of material. If you just listen to this album as background music it will likely not catch your attention with any specially catchy material except for "Your Amazing Love" which starts out the CD nicely. As I often listen to music while I am writing or researching, it affects me most when I pause from what I am doing. No doubt that is true of many Christian artists they would want you to give their music and lyrics full attention. Of course that is not often the reality. Which is why music that has some hook to it becomes the most memorable and sometimes that is to the detriment of the lyrics; where lyrics become repetitious and less meaningful but objects of musical manipulation. An example might be "The Father's Place" on this album which is a gospel inspired song which I could easily forget.

Looking around the internet I see there are not many sites giving reviews of Kees Kraayenoord, and I am not sure why as he does have a few English language albums and the music is interesting and the poetry is quite good. It could be they have trouble spelling his name, I know I do, but I doubt that is the reason. Most likely it is because for American's he is still an outsider even his website is in another language. It starts out as if it is in English but quickly changes into something that only someone who reads Dutch could understand. He might want to look into that because Dutch is not a popular second language in this part of the world. As it turns out Kraayenoord has spent time In Olympia Washington where he worked as a music minister for an Assemblies of God church about 14 years ago. A portal into his website in English would be welcome if for no other reason than to keep his American friends up to date.

As with all my music reviews they are subjectively based upon my musical preferences, I don't review anything I don't like, I give Broken 3 ½ stars. If the material was more in the line of the first 4 songs I would easily give it a 4. As Christianity Today's music reviewer might say there is nothing new here just good worship music. I never like their expectation of something new and different all the time but I realize it is something we always look for. Sometimes we just need good solid mentally and emotionally stimulating music and Kees Kraayenoord's CD "Broken" offers a pleasant dose of that.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Valuegenesis What To Do Next

The Pacific Northwest Adventist Forum is holding a meeting on
March 8 ( Update: sorry earlier I had it as Feb 8) with the featured speaker V. Bailey Gillespie Professor
of Theology and Personality, Director of the John Hancock
Center for Youth and Family Ministry School of Religion at
La Sierra University on the topic:
Valuegenesis: What We Know For Sure...

That is a provocative title at least if you expect to know something for sure… not something that the field of psychology is known for. As a preparation for the event which will be held Auburn Adventist Academy Church I thought I would check on some of the available information on the internet. One interesting item from the Adventist News Network in 2006 is: Europe: Survey Questions Young Adventists on Family, Church, Society Here are some excerpts (in blue) with a few comments (in red):

What do young people in the Seventh-day Adventist church need to grow and maintain a close relationship with Christ? Adventists in Europe are hoping to find the answer through an extensive study that will mine the thoughts of young Adventists living in European countries. The study, Valuegenesis Europe, is based on a similar study done in the United States in 1990 and again in 2000.

"Because there isn't a large network of Adventist schools in Europe, this study will be focusing on the impact of family, church and society among young Adventists in Europe," says Manuela Casti, director of the José Figols Centre for Youth Ministry based at Saleve Adventist University in Collonges-sous-Saleve, France. Casti is also a lecturer at the school's theological seminary and is primary organizer of the Valuegenesis Europe research.

"Our young people are so exposed to society," Casti says. "Eighty percent of their lives have influences other than church. The questionnaire hopes to discover how young people are receiving Adventist teachings and practices, if they are involved in church life and the church's relevance to young people. We hope to see if we can do better and find new ways to reach them."

This interesting part of this statement about eighty percent of influence is how Adventism has for far too long depended upon the education system to indoctrinate the Adventist young. It is something that anyone who sends their children to a public school is well aware of. Our churches offer very little for our young people if they are not affiliated with an SDA school. We have some fairly large churches which have tiny youth departments because the tradition has been to send their children to boarding schools. Now that more American students are not going away to boarding schools our churches need to adjust their youth programs accordingly. However as a denomination we offer very little leadership or ideas to the local youth leaders. Some Youth leaders simply try to indoctrinate the young people as they would if they were being taught in an Adventist school. But that does not work in the real world where the students don’t have to simply accept what the teacher says and they can ask questions. The relevance of a teaching to the high school student becomes more importance when they are not surrounded by others who already believe something. In other words the student has to think about what they are being taught has relevance to their lives as well as to the lives of the people they know at school.

This idea that eighty percent of the influence is separate from the Adventist church is important to realize.

Some of the differences could result from living in a postmodern society. Casti expects that postmodernism will play a significant part in the results. However, Gillespie thinks that based on similar studies done in Australia and Northern Europe, the differences between the impact of postmodernism on young Adventists in America and in Europe will be minor. "We are impacted by postmodernism here just as well," he says.

Casti does not agree: "The U.S. is still very much more involved and sensitive to church life in general. Look at the percentage of church attendance in U.S. It is much higher than Europe. While here churches are becoming more and more empty. In the Northern countries [of Europe] the percentage of people that regularly attend church is below 10 percent."

"Churches are not perceived as a necessary part of individual life anymore," she continues.

Casti calls the situation analphabet. "Not knowing religion," she explains, "is like not knowing how to read or write. Religiously speaking, many [in Europe] don't know the grammar of religion."

One thing that we should learn from the decline of Christianity is that we must not be offering what people need in our churches. Our religion has become distant from the needs of the people and our language become trite both inside and outside our Christian churches. This goes for more than the Adventist church it is a larger problem that Christianity has to deal with. For too long Christianity has been a club with its own language and now people are searching for more than the language of Christianity but the relevance of Christianity. Too often we Christians are afraid to teach the philosophy of Christianity preferring to preach blind faith.

When asked what she believes is responsible for declining church attendance in Europe, Casti shares one theory: "One of the weaknesses of the church is the family transmission of faith. It is not just the Adventist church but everywhere. Religion is now private. Families have not transmitted religion as connected to an institutional choice. In many cases, families delay choice of religion to when young people are big enough to make the choice themselves."

But she says religion is not completely out of the question for European Adventists today because "young people are deeply interested in spiritual things." European youth leaders are hoping that Valuegenesis research will show youth leaders how to reach young people and keep them in the church.

"There isn't just a fear of losing our young people--it's [already] happening," says Paul Tompkins, youth ministries in the Adventist church's Trans-European region.

The critical point here is transmission of our faith. But our faith is not transferred by osmosis. It requires a reasoned and appropriate application of the Christian philosophy with our lives and the lives of those around us. In the Western world our knowledge bases is becoming so large that we can’t hide in the parochial way that was practiced by through the majority of the 20th century.

Hopefully Valuegenesis studies will be aids in our knowledge base but what we need now is the freedom to experiment with new and different methods of relating to the world around us and within our own churches. Unfortunately that seems to be a stumbling block that is proving insurmountable to many churches. We are afraid of trying new things we are afraid that if we acknowledge alternative views we will be seen as compromising with the “world”. We are afraid that we can’t be progressive because we must be traditional.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Connecting with Jesus or Ellen White?

There is a new program sponsored by the SDA church entitled Connecting With Jesus. More aptly it should be called connecting with Ellen White. As you can see by the artwork from the site the rays of the light are very specifically shining upon Ellen White. The Website proposes to get 10 Ellen White books to church members around the world. Of course this would be the way that the effort is connecting to Jesus because Ellen White writes about Religious subjects. Of course by this logic you could say the D.L. Moody, Charles Wesley or any number of authors were connecting to Jesus by reading their material. That this is limited to Ellen White shows that the real intent is to connect the church members with Ellen White who they incorrectly label as the Spirit of Prophecy.

Here is an example of the extra Biblical nature of Ellen White from Patriarchs and Prophets. Here is the material from Chapter 1 study guide.

Chapter 1: Why Was Sin Permitted?
1. In heaven, Lucifer began to insinuate doubts concerning God’s law that governed the angels. How does he continue to attack God’s law?
2. What steps did Lucifer take that caused a spirit of dissatisfaction to grow among the angels? How did the loyal angels respond during this time?
3. The counsel and entreaties of the loyal angels opened a door of hope to the angels blinded by Satan’s deceptions; had they heeded, they might have broken away from his snares. How does this encourage you to witness to those who seem to have fallen beyond hope?
4. Why did God not destroy Satan, but see fit to allow sin to run its course?
Notice these are questions, however it is their feeling that these questions will be answered from the material in Chapter one of Patriarchs and Prophets. And if you believe Ellen White they would be correct as she does answer those questions which the Bible does not address. Specifically for people who probably don't realize the difference between what the Bible says and what EGW says. Here are the problems.
1. In heaven, Lucifer began to insinuate doubts concerning God’s law that governed the angels. How does he continue to attack God’s law?
The Bible first of course does not equate Satan with Lucifer that is church tradition. Neither does the Bible say that Satan insinuated doubts concerning God's law that governed the angels. Even though many people do not realize the historical developments that equated Lucifer of Isaiah 14 to Satan it is none the less an historical fact that most Bible Commentaries note today. For more see Who is Lucifer (Satan Misidentified) After my article is a list of quotes from several commentaries, dictionaries and encyclopedias. Of course many more could be added, so be sure to read the evidence before merely discounting the idea because it is not consistent with the tradition one may have grown up with.
2. What steps did Lucifer take that caused a spirit of dissatisfaction to grow among the angels? How did the loyal angels respond during this time?
Again the Bible records nothing of steps of this supposed Lucifer to cause dissatisfaction, nor does it say how loyal angels responded. A lot of this is taken from the verse in Revelation "there was war in heaven" however that is only one interpretation of that verse e.g. that there really was a war in heaven. The rest is taken from the Lucifer myth as put forth in the early church fathers.
3. The counsel and entreaties of the loyal angels opened a door of hope to the angels blinded by Satan’s deceptions; had they heeded, they might have broken away from his snares. How does this encourage you to witness to those who seem to have fallen beyond hope?
4. Why did God not destroy Satan, but see fit to allow sin to run its course?
Again nothing in the Bible about this.

A fictional version of things as if they are presented in the Bible is a cause for concern. Many may say that Isaiah 14 is allegorical for Satan. However to be an allegory the information must be presented somewhere in the Bible as an unequivocal statement. Otherwise as an allegory it would have to be defined by the speculation that Satan did all those things in heaven. In which case it becomes nothing more then a speculation. Ellen White does not however say that this material is in the Bible hence the need for her input as a prophet and the use of the term Spirit of Prophecy. This gives authority and allows for non Biblical material to be accepted as if it was from the Bible.

Not that much of this is new to Adventism it is not, she is merely taking traditions and codifying it for Adventism. with the imprimatur of the truth backed by the prophet whose writing are viewed as the Spirit of Prophecy. Which leads to the problem of Connecting with Jesus program. It is simply a veiled attempt to promote Ellen White as a spiritual authority. Most likely an attempt to build up Ellen White in the world, increasing her impact in the third world and trying to recapture the authority of Ellen White as a prophet in the Adventist population of the first world.