A zero-sum game is one where one person or group wins and the other players or group of players lose. It is often wrongly assumed that our economic system known as Capitalism is a zero-sum game. A good quote on that subject is found on this site:
Capitalism means that no one is subject to arbitrary coercion by others. Because we have the option of simply refraining from signing a contract or doing a business deal if we prefer some other solution, the only way of getting rich in a free market is by giving people something they want, something they will pay for of their own free will. Both parties to a free exchange have to feel that they benefit from it; otherwise there won't be any deal. Economics, then, is not a zero-sum game. The bigger a person's income in a market economy, the more that person has done to offer people what they want. Bill Gates and Madonna earn millions, but they don't steal that money; they earn it by offering software and music that a lot of people think are worth paying for. In this sense, they are essentially our servants. Firms and individuals struggle to develop better goods and more efficient ways of providing for our needs. The alternative is for the government to take our resources and then decide which types of behavior to encourage. The only question is why the government knows what we want and what we consider important in our lives better than we ourselves do.
In this analogy Adventism is the construct we are working within. Inside the Adventist church we are able to influence others but not by coercion. In this marketplace of ideas we succeed when we offer people something that they want or need. Based upon the free exchange of our ideas and their ideas for the benefit of all involved. We don’t have to take their ideas and they don’t have to take our ideas, ideas that benefit the person will be accepted those which don’t won’t find a buyer. Adventism is dealing in the wider Christian marketplace of ideas where we struggle to develop better ideas and services then other churches, though for this article we will just deal within the Adventist church.
Before we go on however we have to look at what the alternative is. For instance in economics the main alternative to Capitalism is Socialism. Socialism being that defined as: social organization in which the means of producing and distributing goods is owned collectively or by a centralized government that often plans and controls the economy. In Adventism this would be the Adventist leadership or bureaucracy. Thus the leadership would say this is what we believe and this is what you are to believe in Adventism. Since Adventism does not have the force of government, it has no IRS to collect your tithes and offerings, no prisons to jail dissenters, the force of the Adventist socialist leadership would be in the exclusion of membership of church members. Since in Adventism we are dealing in the marketplace of ideas, we are talking about the exclusion from the Adventist marketplace of ideas. A person or group of people could be excluded but still allowed to go and sit and be preached at or they could still go and sing in corporate song services and certainly they could still give to the Adventist leadership. They would simply be restricted when it comes to the expression of their ideas.
Adventism is not a zero-sum game however, it is not a magisterium, it does not take what ideas it accepts and redistributes them as it sees fit. If a Progressive Adventist becomes a traditional Adventist or a traditional Adventist becomes a Progressive Adventist it is not a win lose situation. In fact there are many or maybe even most Adventists holding to ideas between the quintessential Traditional or Progressive Adventist perspectives. Often we would not even agree upon what each idea is that makes up a Progressive or a Traditional Adventist even among those who label themselves as Progressive or Traditional Adventist when describing their own beliefs.
Since we are not a zero-sum game the various factions should not have to worry about any defections from their camp to the other camp. After all each group could go out and recruit more new members from outside of Adventism. So we are left with this marketplace of ideas, a place where ideas that serve people the best will be most accepted. As in Capitalism we are essentially servants who need to be offering ideas and services that people want and need and are willing to expend their time and energy to become involved with. At some point those being served will want to market themselves and become servants and then besides their time and energy they may offer their money to improve the product. Capitalism is effective because it creates wealth; it is not about redistributing wealth because that is a very temporary solution and much closer to the zero-sum game idea. The church that is creating a wealth of ideas stimulates more people to do more and create more ideas and ways to serve.
Does this seem elementary? Perhaps though today fewer and fewer people believe in Capitalism, usually because they don’t know what it is or because they think that a big government who tells them what to do is a better solution. Why that would be I have no idea, perhaps it is because some people won’t do anything to help someone else unless they are forced to do it. So if government forces them to help others maybe they will actually help some more people; though since the socialism does not create wealth ultimately they defeat their purpose. So it may be inside Adventism where some feel that the Adventist leadership simply knows what is best and they will shower down their wisdom upon the local churches and make them successful and helpful. The fact still remains that innovation comes from the grassroots not from the bureaucracy. It is the innovators that create the wealth.
So how is your local church at innovation, what have they tried, what ideas are being presented. If your church is like mine than it is doing precious little innovation and ideas are routinely limited. I am sure it is more difficult in Adventism since they have the idea that they have inherited the truth…what need of new ideas or innovations then? But really how many of us really believe that?