Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Friday, November 28, 2008

And What are You Going to Do About IT

Recently I sent an Email to the folks in charge at my church. In it I asked how they would respond to the 5 previous articles on this blog. How will Traditional Adventism seek to retain our young people in the church? A portion of my email stated:

I arrived at this decision when I was thinking what the traditional Adventist proposes to do to help youth stay in the Adventist church. I looked on the internet and found precious little that dealt with the principles involved in retaining American youth in the SDA church.

After I read the article copied below, I was thinking, as it identifies relationship as the big thing how does one build a relationship if they deny the ability of others to hold differing views. Can one have a relationship with the young person while demanding that they accept all your beliefs and doctrines? What does a young person feel if they find that their teacher is not allowed to teach anything other then generic SDA beliefs or worse yet a subset of SDA beliefs which are ill identified or have to be officially presented by the SDA organization? Basically it comes down to how is a relationship built or maintained if the relationship is primarily built upon either side accepting a specific set of doctrines? How does a method of Traditional SDA doctrine only related classes, work with visitors or the friends of youth, do they feel that their church is open enough to accept their non SDA friends or will they feel that their teachers can't handle alternative Christian views? Perhaps, and I hope this is not the case but it likely is, we don't want to expose our young people to other possibilities and ideas because we have assumed that we have all the truth and if it is not part of our doctrines then it has no value, that the possibility that we could be wrong is too terrible to even contemplate.

A recent article in Adventist Today by Chris Blake began:

Every year I see my students leave a vibrant campus, and I know what’s going to happen to them. Many will walk inside a small Adventist church, where they expect or hope to encounter excellent preaching; soul-stirring music; honest, deep friendships characterized by open dialogue; and attractive, imaginative, courageous discipleship.

Soon they will be disappointed. Soon after that, they will bolt.

Some of that may be a little over the top. I grew up very close to Walla Walla College and I don’t recall it being known at that time for excellent preaching or soul stirring music. What did impress me was the selection of Sabbath School classes. Most were too big for real discussions but the range of thought was so much greater then any other church. It was there that the open dialogue found it’s fulfillment. The friendships were the result of the college not the church, but know doubt friendships made the dialogue even better.

Of course Adventism is not alone in seeing their young people leave the church. It happens in most all Christian churches in America. Here is a post from Ben Witherington’s blog:

Ron Luce is worried. And if Ron Luce is worried, we should be too. Ron runs an organization called Teen Mania which puts on camps, concerts and various and sundry other sorts of events for youth. He claims that in the last fifteen years 2 million youth have attended his events, the usual formula for which includes some prominent popular Evangelical band, speakers, and counselors. There is a figure that was put out there a decade or so ago which said that even Evangelical Churches are retaining only about 4-5% of our youth. A more recent poll by George Barna suggests that only 5% of our country's youth are Bible believing Christians, but perhaps he was defining Christian or Bible-believing too narrowly. I personally don't think this is true, but even if it is in the ball park it means that youth ministry as currently constituted is largely failing. You should read the story for yourself. Here's the link from this morning's N.Y. Times.

The youth in our churches have the same malaise affecting Christianity in the Western World. They just haven’t committed the years as adults so they feel free to bolt. The fact is that music and speakers and counselors aren’t going to really change anything. We have to change they way we do church. We have to allow open dialogue, stop being so dogmatic and provide relevancy of Christianity to the reality of the world we live in. Relevancy is not found in doctrines but in relationship; relationship between people which encourage and stimulate the relationship with God. We could all have a relationship with God in private but really what good is that? Christianity was never about making the individual content with whatever he or she thought they wanted in a relationship with God. After all if it is just you then you will tend to make God fit in to your ways. We need the outside relationship to stimulate that personal relationship with God…to make it more than what we want into what makes our community better. In simple terms we need to be healed, but when we are isolated by ourselves our sickness is not so obvious and of course we are of no aid to the other sick campers.

We have to get past our insistence upon doctrines as our salvation or the way to salvation. They are not, and sometimes our doctrines are part of the problem. The old methods are not working; they are not working in the Adventist church any better then any other denomination or non denominational church. When was the last time your church talked about this subject? Mine doesn’t I hope to stimulate them; it is too bad I had to be treated as problem to get them to talk about it, if they will talk about it. Hopefully they will respond and I will relay it here, and if they don’t…well hopefully not every Christian wants to play ostrich with their head in the ground.

Friday, November 14, 2008

public evangelism without the public

Here is a great statement from one of the comments on the Spectrum blog about church evangelism.

Frank7 wrote:

In today's climate, the general public is suspicious of trying to be sold a bill of goods from organized religions and "snake-oil salesmen." Many will not darken the door of a church let alone have the time or the inclination to devote to attend a 3-5 week campaign. Yet,these same people are starved for authentic connection, friendships, and purpose in their lives. That's a clear signal to us that we, as a denomination and as local congregations need to keep shifting our emphasis from evangelism as a one off event run by the professionals, to something we do as everyday, caring Christians.

In fact, many growing churches that practice such relational evangelism, and that have intentionally organized house to house fellowship groups to recieve and nurture people in the faith, do not need to do much, if any, public evangelism. They have cooperated with the Spirit in the way to most effectively love people, and "God adds daily to their number those who are being saved."

Even if, from an Adventist perspective, such churches don't have all the correct doctrine, God will still bring people into their midst because he knows that they will be well taken care of in a healthy, safe, caring environment. And, if we are not equipped, ready or inclined to recieve people in our local churches in this way, God won't bring them to us in any significant number... no matter how much doctrinal truth we may toss at them, or how many dollars we continue tossing at public campaigns.

After my recent experience of being told I can't help lead a sabbath school class of early teens because I don't agree with certain doctrines I realize just how far we in the Adventist church have fallen away from relationships. I knew the elements were there, declaring that we had the truth or that we are the remnant etc. Doctrine can never replace relationships, either relationships between people and relationship with God. Until we realize this as a church, and it has to begin at the local church, there appears little point in continuing the charade. We have as the Newsboys sang "lost the plot".

I was watching the John Ankerberg show today and he went over his most controversial shows. The most controversial was the one on the Masons. What one of the former Masons said struck me. He went over how Masons in their secret ceremonies teach a good works to salvation. He lamented that some of the things he taught these people would end them up in hell. What struck me was how much of Christianity has bought into, it is what you know rather then who you know. As if salvation was from what we know, the doctrines we know and accept. This has lead churches like the Adventist church to try and spread their doctrines rather then to spread the love of God through relationships. It has made us ineffective Christians, poor ambassadors of Christ.

And the worst thing is so few are listening and if you listen and want to do something you have to constantly fight those who refuse to listen and refuse to do anything new or different. You can't debate a doctrine because then you are attacking a "truth" and if they give in than they are on the road to compromise and any step away from what they hold as truth would be evidence that the people are falling into apostasy.

I also today heard a useful sermon by Brian Houston of the Hillsong church entitled "a place of agreement" very appropriate to this issue because the Bible calls us to agree but in reality few of us agree on anything. Check it out on Itunes.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Fritz Guy's Sermon What will the church do

Continuing on the theme of what kind of church do we want I thought I would cite some relevant material from Fritz Guy. Just to be clear the reason for this most recent series of articles is because I have been rethinking the future of Adventism more particularly my place in Adventism.

This issue is rather important to me because it reflects my experience in my local church. For several months the church did not have an Early teen leader. My daughter was very bored because they grouped primary through early teen together. I volunteered to lead the Early teen division as it turned out a couple of other people agreed to help I would do 2 weeks and the others would do two weeks. There also had to be two adults in the room for safety reasons.

After about 2 weeks some concerned people came to the children's Sabbath school ministry team leader and complained about things I had written on my blog. Those three topics mentioned were the inerrancy of scriptures, the infallibility of scriptures and belief in EGW as prophet.

I was asked nicely to quit. This is not to blame the Sabbath School leader or the head Elder (since we are in between Pastors) for they are as much victims of the current church culture as I am. I have been fighting it for years, this is possibly their first experience and since the squeaky wheel gets the grease it is always easier to give in to the demands of the sanctimonious. If only those people read the following, if only our church Pastors would give sermons to encourage thought.

So now a few quotes from Being Adventist in 21st Century Austrailia, Mapping the Past:Exploring the Development of Adventist Theology by Fritz Guy Ph.D 2002

Please note the above is the cached version the other version seems to be down.

A still different development that has seldom been recognized was moving toward fundamentalism in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s.21 This was an Adventist response to the fundamentalist-modernist polarization that affected and afflicted much of American Protestantism in the early decades of the twentieth century. Modernism was an essentially naturalistic view of all reality, including human existence, and religion, and it took a decidedly dim view of miracles, in the Bible as elsewhere, and cast doubt on the traditional authorship of many books of the Bible, on the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus, and on a literal, six-day Creation. This view was largely the result of two cultural factors: Darwinian evolutionary understandings of the origins of life and humanity, and German higher critical views of the origins of Scripture. In reaction, the fundamentalist movement developed in North America during and after World War I. It identified and affirmed several "fundamentals" of Christian faith, such as the inerrancy of scripture, the deity and virgin birth of Christ, the creation and fall of humanity, the substitutionary atonement, the bodily resurrection and ascension of Christ, the personal and imminent return of Christ, and the final resurrection and assignment of all people to eternal blessedness in heaven or eternal punishment in hell. These beliefs had been set forth in a series of twelve volumes published between 1910 and 1915 and called The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth.22

Obviously, most of these "fundamentals" fit nicely with Adventist beliefs—the major differences being the disregard of the seventh-day Sabbath and the insistence on an everburning hell. So Adventists often claimed to be "the most fundamental of the fundamentalists"23 and, indeed, "the only true fundamentalists."24 But the first of the so-called "fundamentals" was problematic, the one that proclaimed the "inerrancy" of Scripture— which meant that there were no inaccuracies of any kind. This view was not based on a careful reading of Scripture itself, but on a line of theological syllogism: Scripture is the Word of God; God is perfect and therefore cannot be in error; therefore Scripture is inerrant.

This view of Scripture was perfectly acceptable to some Adventists, although not to all. Since the beginning of the Advent movement some, including some prominent figures, had held to verbal inspiration and inerrancy.25 And by the 1920s, many Adventists "also applied their beliefs in inerrancy and verbalism to the writings of Ellen White."26 But this was never means unanimous, the most significant dissent coming from Ellen White herself. In 1886 she wrote abut the process of inspiration that resulted in Scripture:…

And in 1888 she reiterated a realistic understanding of both the divine initiation and the human limitations of the Scripture: "Some look to us gravely and say, 'Don't you think there might have been some mistake in the copyist or in the translators?' This is all probable, . . . [but] all the mistakes will not cause trouble to one soul, or cause any feet to stumble, that would not manufacture difficulties from the plainest revealed truth."28

An additional element in the fundamentalist reaction within Adventist theology in the 1920s "was the continuing temptation to do theology from Ellen White and to make her equally authoritative with or even superior to the Bible. This approach, of course, ran against her [own] lifelong counsel. But she was now dead and various Adventists did with her writings what they felt best."31 A common idea was that the Ellen White materials were "inspired commentaries" on the Bible.32 Indeed, this idea became so dominant that "all too often Adventist laity and clergy alike used the writings of Ellen White in such a way that the 'lesser light' [as she called her writings] became the 'greater light' in practice rather than the Bible."33 Ellen White, on the other hand, never said, "Let me tell you what the Bible means." Instead, she insisted that people read the Bible for themselves. She was an agent of Scripture, urging people to read it, not its guardian, protecting it from misinterpretation.

Unfortunately the fundamentalism that became prominent in the 1920s is still very much with us.

Another development that has not received the attention it deserves was increasing Biblical literacy signaled by the publication of the seven-volume Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary in the 1950s.34 As Knight observes,

It is difficult for Adventists living 50 years later to grasp the revolutionary approach to Bible study in Adventism represented by the Commentary. For the first time in its history the denomination produced a document that dealt with the entire Bible in a systematic and expository manner. . . . The Commentary made extensive use of the text of the Bible in the original languages, archaeological insights that helped recreate the times in which the various Bible books originated, and a weighing of variant readings in the ancient tests. . . . More important, however, is the fact that the Commentary moved away from the central tradition of Bible study in Adventism with its apologetic purpose and proof-text method. In the place of a defensive approach to the Bible, [it] sought to let the Bible speak for itself. . . . [It] sought to set the Bible before the church not as an "answer book" for the concerns of the Adventist church but as God's word to His people across the centuries.35

Besides demonstrating the maturity and confidence of Adventist Biblical scholarship, this extraordinary undertaking accomplished several other things as well.

(1) It drove Adventist theology to examine its foundation in the Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic texts. No longer would it be sufficient base a scholarly argument on an English translation, and least of all on the often-archaic language of the King James Version of 1611, although that was the text printed in the Commentary. No longer could we do theology simply by using an English concordance, as William Miller and many later preachers had done.

(2) It disclosed that in many cases there was more than one "Adventist" interpretation of the text. Adventist Biblical scholars had long been engaged in arguments about such things, but now the different views were out in the open for everyone to see.

(3) Adventist theology had to recognize various kinds of diversity in Scripture itself. In some cases there were textual variants, so that readers could not be sure exactly what the Bible writer had actually written. In other cases, there were varying accounts of the same incidents—most notably in the Gospels, but also in Kings and Chronicles. Evidently it was not important to get all the details correct all the time. In still other cases, the theology of one writer seems to be different from that of another. The cumulative impact of this diversity at various levels makes the ideas of verbal inspiration and Biblical inerrancy highly implausible. It is difficult to be a fundamentalist if you read the Bible attentively and thoughtfully.

A somewhat parallel development has been the humanizing of Ellen White. If one starts with a picture of her as a divinely inspired prophet—especially a verbally inspired and infallible one—then the more one learns about her and her work, the more problems arise and need to be solved. The surprises are almost always bad news, challenging what one has believed. What is one supposed to do with a prophet who preached vegetarianism but wrote to her daughter-in-law asking her to get her "a few cans of good oysters"?36 But if one starts with a 19th-century woman who was part of the Adventist anticipation, disappointment, and new beginning in 1844 and who married a brilliant but volatile preacher-entrepreneur then the more one learns the more impressive is her contribution to Adventist faith and life. She was involved in establishing the major institutional enterprises of the church—publishing, health care, education, and overseas missions. She was also the predominant influence in the development of both Adventist piety and Adventist theology. Literally millions of Adventists, for example, have benefited from her teaching about the nature of prayer.37

In many ways she influenced the theological agenda of the church, but she never claimed to have the last theological word. Adventist theological conversation often begins with an insight she expressed, but it never properly ends there. The role of a prophet is to encourage Bible study and theology by the church but not to do them for the church. She said, for example, "We have many lessons to learn and many, many to unlearn,"38 but she never explained which lessons were which. Here as elsewhere, she provided the challenge; it is the church's task to do the work.

Regarding an understanding of atonement, for example—how the death of Christ accomplishes human salvation—her views point Adventist thinking beyond a simple penal-substitutionary theory:39 "Satan led men to conceive of God as a being whose chief attribute is stern justice,—one who is a severe judge, a harsh, exacting creditor. He pictured the Creator as a being who is watching with jealous eye to discern the errors and mistakes of men, that He may visit judgments upon them. It was to remove this dark shadow, by revealing to the world the infinite love of God, that Jesus came to live among men. The Son of God came from heaven to make manifest the Father." In other words, "The Father loves us, not because of the great propitiation, but He provided the propitiation because He loves us."40 But she never spelled out the particulars of a more adequate theory.

If we stand back now and look at the history of Adventist thinking, is there anything we can say about general patterns and principles? I think so, and here is a threefold characterization: change, diversity, and enlargement.

First, the most prominent pattern and in Adventist thinking is change. Knight begins his account of "the development of Seventh-day Adventist beliefs" with this observation: "Most of the founders of Seventh-day Adventism would not be able to join the church today if they had to agree to the denomination's '27 Fundamental Beliefs'."51 This is hardly a surprise, given the developments we have noticed this evening. The idea of "present truth" points to the fact that "each generation must in some ways be a first generation all over again."52

Each generation is called to live in the spirit of discovery. It can—and should—build on the foundation of the past, but it is called to build, not just preserve. It is called to build with realism and integrity, with insight and creativity. Here as elsewhere Ellen White saw the situation clearly: "Whenever the people of God are growing in grace, they will be constantly obtaining a clearer understanding of His Word. They will discern new light and beauty in its sacred truths. This has been true in the history of the church in all ages, and thus it will continue to the end."53 Our Adventist theological tradition is not a stockade to imprison our thinking, but a platform on which to build. Authentic, thoroughgoing, truly historic Adventism is progressive Adventism. It was that way in 1844, and it has been that way ever since, as Adventists have been responsive to new facts, new circumstances, new needs. This was the motivation for the very important preamble to the 1980 statement of "Fundamental Beliefs."54

A second, and closely related, pattern that is visible in the history of Adventist thinking is diversity. The history of Adventist thinking is a history of family arguments—arguments about the relation of obedience to salvation and the relation of Christ to God, about the nature of inspiration and the role of Ellen White, about the battle of Armageddon, about the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary, about the influence of scientific knowledge on our reading of the Bible.

As change is inevitable, so is theological diversity. There always has been, and always will be, dissent. Because people are different, they hink differently and hear God's word differently. What to some members of the community is obvious, inescapable, and logically necessary, to others is mistaken, unwarranted, and absurd. And there has been, and always will be, dissent about the significance of dissent. in regard to a particular issue. When a dissenting voice is heard, almost always someone responds by saying that the dissenting view is—or will result in—the complete abandonment of Adventist belief. This happened in the nineteenth century; it happened in the twentieth century; and it is happening already in the twenty-first century.

But we needn't be frightened by the specter of "pluralism." There has always been a plurality of views. To the end of his life, Uriah Smith held an unorthodox view of the nature of Christ—in spite of Ellen White's statements to the contrary—but he was neither ostracized nor vilified, much less expelled from the community or its ordained ministry.

Theological diversity is not only inevitable and tolerable; it is also potentially valuable. So far from being a liability, it can be an asset. It is often through dissent, discussion, and dialogue that the church comes to a more adequate understanding of truth. As Ellen White advised us long ago, "When no new questions are started by investigation of the Scriptures, when no difference of opinion arises which will set men to searching the Bible for themselves, to make sure that they have the truth, there will be many now, as in ancient times, who will hold to tradition, and worship they know not what."55 Of course, dissent is not always a move in the right direction. An idea or insight that is new is not necessarily true. A dissenting opinion must make a case for itself.

A third pattern in the history of Adventist thinking is a general movement toward enlargement, toward broader, more comprehensive views. This kind of movement appears in various aspects of our thinking. In reading Scripture, for example, the focus has moved away from individual verses and toward larger units—paragraphs, chapters, books, and even the Bible as a whole. There has been a tendency to take context more seriously in understanding what a particular sentence of Scripture is saying to us.56 Even a whole book of the Bible may not be the last word on a subject. To understand the relationship between trusting God's love and doing God's will, we need the New Testament letters of both James and Paul, and the Gospels as well. It is the larger whole of Scripture, not a sentence here or there, that is theologically authoritative as "the rule of faith and practice."

In the outcome of our thinking, there has been movement from details and particularities to larger theological understanding. There are "larger views" of the sanctuary, of the atonement, the Sabbath, the "mark of the beast," the mission of the church, and other traditional ideas and activities. And in regard to our theological conversation partners, we have moved from talking and listening exclusively to ourselves—that is, to like-minded Adventists—to interacting with the larger Christian community. So the reality of change in our theological heritage has resulted in diversity and enlargement of our Adventist thinking.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

View from beyond the cave part 2

Recently I rather poignantly found out just how specious most in the Adventist church are concerning the religious education of their children. However it is not only the children it is also faulty in regards to the knowledge of adults as well.

We have seen a steady decline in Christianity and Adventism in the Western world. What have we done to counteract the trend?

For years the Christian church has spent the vast majority of its resources in areas where Christianity is known.Through the Global Mission initiative, the Seventh-day Adventist Church has made the 10/40 Window a priority in mission.

Today Adventist missionaries, pastors, laypeople and Global Mission pioneers are carrying the message of hope to the 10/40 Window.Much still needs to be done, but your loving donations and prayers are making a difference. Thank you so much for your support of Adventist Mission.

This is the emphasis for the last few years. The Adventist church has apparently given up on much of Europe and the United States. How will they reach these people? Apparently from the article linked above it is by sending evangelists.

So what does the SDA church offer for the youth in North America, how are they going to communicate with a world that is growing increasingly secular while also becoming increasing knowledgeable with the internet and it’s abundance of Religious and anti-religious material.

The following is from an article designed for the youth overall it is the standard denominational material. The 2009 YEAR OF SHINING Small Group Discussions for Adventist Youth perpared by Youth Ministries Department General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists

The article suggests on page 12 in the beginning chapter on Discipleship the following statement is made:


Examine your life plans. How does witnessing fit in? If we assume the above statement to be true – that our value in this life is “to be used to disciple men and women to the Lord Jesus Christ – what needs to change?

These days, if we want to be effective…, we have to be able to discuss truth – both the truth of Scripture and the truth about God that’s philosophical in nature. How do we do that?

Know what you believe. [Have a] basic understanding of sin and salvation. Take some time to expand your understanding of what “truth” is.

Know current thinking about God, truth, religion, etc. [Y]ou can…get a grasp of these ideas from [surfing the internet,] watching television, or reading some magazines that talk about what’s happening in the world. Above all, the easiest place to learn about current thinking is to listen to what your unsaved friends are talking about.

Much of the rest of the paper is the same old material on service and evangelism etc. The article and our church takes precious little time to deal with the foundation of witnessing however. That is to think critically and to have a good knowledge of religion not simply your own churches traditions but of other views both inside and outside of the Adventist or the Christian church.

In a recent conversation I had with a couple of people of authority over our young peoples classes in our local church. They sought to take issue with some of my thoughts from my article on Why I am a Progressive Seventh-day Adventist. One of the issues is that I don’t hold to the inerrancy of the Bible. It is easy to give examples of numerous errors and contradictions in the Bible and after I gave the classic about David being either inspired by God or Satan to number Israel one of the people stated that they could with certainty bring those issues to someone in the church who could answer the problems in a way that would solve any questions. Of course those of us who study Christianity know the answer. It is only thought to be inerrant in the autographs (original manuscripts). Of course we don’t have the autographs and we will very likely never have them and unless we had them there is nothing to say that the manuscripts we do have do not have errors in them. In short inerrancy is a gratuitous assertion accepted by faith, not faith in God even, for nothing in the Bible states the writing is inerrant. No the faith is in their belief that something that we don’t have is something that no other written document in the world is, inerrant.

Obviously this is a carry over from the old days when the Bible was thought to be verbally inspired. The second subject was likewise connected, the infallibility of the Bible, again nothing in the Bible, any of its component books make a claim for Biblical infallibility let alone for the compiled document we call the Bible. In a world with over 30,000 denominations and independent Christian churches all based upon the Bible it is a foolish notion to even speak of infallibility of the Bible. After all written words always require interpretation so that even if something as somehow infallible once the material entered into the fallible mind of a human being the infallibility is gone. This along with the questioning of Ellen White as a prophet, have made Progressive Adventists unwelcome as teachers for our young people. I fear that this fear of Progressive Adventism is not something found only in my local congregation. Traditional Adventists have been complaining about it for a long time. This last week Clifford Goldstein once again complains about SDA’s who are “the ones who have assaulted my beliefs the most”. ( Adventist Today Blog subscription only)

This fear of being challenged by thinking SDA’s is reflected in the mission activities of our church and the way the church addresses our young people. They ignore the questions and the needed education required of the modern Western world and they focus on third world mission where they can teach their traditions with easier acceptance from a poorly educated populace. But what happens when they learn more, what happens when they have access to the information that we have in the Western World. As the article above pays lip service to knowing what other Christians and other philosophies believe the church does little to actually teach their youth how to think, because if they think, they will move away from traditional Adventism. And that is the fear, that Adventism has become a monument of truth, that truth being something delivered to the Adventist church sometime in the 19th century.

A truth which can’t even be debated because to debate it means you have to listen to other positions and interpretations. Which is why traditional Adventists won’t actually deal with the subject where they disagree with Progressive Adventists, rather they work behind the scenes questioning peoples qualifications to serve the church as leaders in children’s divisions etc. Taking every effort to insure that their children only hear what they accept. Pretending that the young people can’t handle ideas because the parents as traditional Adventists can’t handle ideas.

After so many years of losing our youth you would think that these traditional Adventists would begin to see they are hurting the very people they think they are helping.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

A View Beyond the Cave

The title of this blog is taken from the CD A View Beyond the Cave by “Bernard”. It is apt for the subject today.

What is the culture of the present Adventist church? By culture I mean what is the atmosphere in your home town church. Does the church respect the larger ideals of critical thinking or reasoned presentations of why one believes what they believe? Or is the view from the cave all that they see? Is the atmosphere restricted by their location in time and tradition to one direction and that direction is the accepted doctrine? Thoughts peripherally restricted to a past century’s doctrine.

What is the future of those who view life from a cave, certainly they won’t want to leave the cave it represents their safety, the surety that they are right and the world is only what is seen from the cave. No need to go out there and really explore we have the view from the cave, no need to ask questions the answers must be whatever we can find in the cave.

Teach your children well was the advice from the old song by Crosby Stills Nash and Young, but what do you teach them? Do we teach them only what we think we know? That was the method of the Middle Ages, a time when they knew that the earth was the center of the universe and they knew that they should not suffer a witch to live and if the witch did not drown when submerged then that was evidence enough to kill her (the test preformed usually after torture of course). Does that sound like your church in the enlightened 21st century?

Of course such things would be an outrage today and no one would likely say that their church was so unreasonable. The witch trials are over today the Adventist church has moved on. Today in the Adventist church the test is over orthodoxy, not Christian orthodoxy because, well Adventists are not orthodox, we don’t believe in eternal torment in hell and we have a prophet that no other denomination except Adventist offshoots and Unitarians accept. So Adventism has developed its own orthodoxy. Today it known as Traditional Adventism. Why is traditional Adventism the orthodox position? Just as in general Christian orthodoxy it is the people who are in control that call the shots. Orthodoxy became orthodoxy by the power of the Roman Catholic Church when confrontations arose the church split. Early on it was the great schism that separated the Eastern and Western Roman Catholic Church and then the Reformation which separated the Protestant Church from the Roman Catholic Church. Orthodoxy then becomes whatever the people in power want it to be and orthodoxy changes depending upon which group you form an alliance with. What is orthodox to a Greek Orthodox Church is heterodox to the Roman Catholic Church and the Baptist church. What is orthodox to the Baptist is heterodox to the Roman Catholic and the Adventist.

Of course they all think they are right and the other wrong and they teach their children that they are right and the others must be wrong, if the others were right then they would believe as the leaders of their church do. So the question is, have they taught their children well? If the goal was to keep them in a particular doctrinal cave then yes they were taught well. If the goal was to make them thinking Christians then they really were not taught well.

That is the difference between Progressive Adventists and Traditional Adventists. The progressive Adventists ask the questions wrestle with the differences and teach their children that, is what thinking Christians do. That it is the relationship with God that counts not clinging to provincial doctrines just because certain people call them orthodoxy or that is what their peculiar prophetic figure believed.

What is the culture of your home church? Are your members dominated by some who are afraid of different beliefs and interpretations, ideas not the same as their traditions or is your church open to dialog on the issues, willing to let their children hear other arguments about origin and meaning and understanding religious and spiritual issues?

You have a sacred trust to teach your children well. But what is your goal in teaching them? That question will ultimately decide the culture of your church, not just of your children but of the adults in future generations and ultimately possibly the survival of your religion. But then again if the purpose of your religion is to simply self sustain then it is not likely to survive and probably should not.