Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Friday, February 19, 2010

A Letter to the Local Adventist Church Pastors

Over a month ago I sent the following letter to a couple of local church pastors. One ultimately gave me a substantive answer the other wanted to meet but since I was not in town at the time he desired I offered other alternatives but never received an answer. To my way of thinking no answer when the question is how do you treat Progressive Adventists in your church is in fact an answer. Since the pastor who answered did not want his answer published I will summarize it as: Progressive Adventists are welcome to worship with us. They cannot be leaders and they are stumbling blocks because they don't believe the strongly held beliefs of the church as a whole (see previous article the myth of the church as a whole). The "church as a whole" is kind of funny as in the letter I talk about the idea of having doctrines decided by a bureaucracy but that was still his ultimate reasoning.


I have been what can be termed a Progressive Seventh-day Adventist for over 20 years. Through most of that time I have been accepted in the Adventist churches I have attended. Through much of that time the average Adventist did not know what the term Progressive SDA meant. Possibly that was better for all concerned as they could hear what we had to say and judge the statements for themselves whether our views had substance or not. Today sides appear to have been drawn that tend to set traditional/historic Adventists against Progressive Adventists. With the effect that at least for me it appears that the leadership of the Adventist church has no real interest in me as a member or my opinions upon religion and theology.

Unlike many other Progressive SDA’s I have a blog and website which offers hundreds of pages of information about what I think on religion and theology. I have for many years been open about my views and I acknowledge that my views do in fact change which is one of the benefits of having written down my beliefs for numerous years. What I have always disliked about my Adventist experience is how those in leadership positions were usually afraid to engage in dialog (see here for my challenge to my local church actions against me over a year ago with still no answer or any attempt to answer made).

Many years ago in Boise I asked the pastor what he knew about the various atonement theories. He said that they probably studied them in seminary but he did not know or remember much about them.

How many of our church leaders are simply like that--assuming that that the information they were given is sufficient for the rest of their lives? What happens when they come in contact with the rest of us…with those of us who love to continue to learn and try to understand both history and the history of theology and religion?

For many of us Progressives Adventists we want to know if there is a place for us in the Seventh-day Adventist church.

After all, if we can’t contribute to the local church with our ideas except in the Adult Sabbath school classes are we really part of the local church? It seems some people feel that exposure of the young people of our church to Progressive SDA ideas simply can’t be allowed. It appears that these leaders feel it their responsibility to insure that only what they define as traditional/historic Adventist ideas are taught. Never mind that we as a church have in numerous areas changed our views from our historic understandings. Religions change, it is a fact of life and if you believe in progressive revelation there is no excuse to think that your religion won’t change. So if it is not tradition that informs these leaders to reject Progressive Adventists what is it? Is it a hierarchy, such that the local Adventist church must teach or expose its members to only those ideas approved by the General Conference, perhaps only those things taught in our lesson study guides? I would hate to think my religion is dictated by a bureaucracy but maybe that is what the leadership in my local church thinks.

I recently happened upon this quote from a local church which has since changed it’s name. Perhaps it expresses the view of your church:

College Street Christian Church is an undenominational fellowship. It doesn't matter what kind of background you have (Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, Atheist, Agnostic, or whatever); you are welcome here. Even if within one family there are varied backgrounds, this church can be an easy compromise for everyone. How? All we ask is that every person leaves teachings of man at the door. When you enter our building, you will only get the Bible; not anyone's opinion of it. So, check us out. See if we live up to it. No fake stuff; nothing weird. Just God's Holy Word. It's enough for us!”

That sounds like a high ideal. But, is it possible, even in a theoretical sense?

If your church is not bound by tradition or bureaucracy perhaps like the church quoted above you feel that it teaches only the Bible and not anyone’s opinion of it. It is good to teach the Bible but we certainly have to be realistic enough to know that the Bible is always taught through the interpretation of the person who is reading or studying or teaching from the Bible. It is impossible to get around the human component in understanding the Bible and we humans can often be wrong even with the best of intentions.

Having monitored and/or been involved with many Adventist internet discussion formats I realize that there is a deep rift between traditional and progressive Adventists. Deeper than we usually see in our social interactions in our local churches, which often involve little more than polite conversations with little depth. It is therefore possible that a person could go to a local church for several years before they determine how the leadership of a particular church feels about progressive Adventism. Which leads to this letter and the question what place does your church hold for a progressive Adventist?

Please understand that my question above is not merely rhetorical. I truly wish to understand the boundaries of acceptable Adventism within my current congregation or any near my home. How big is the tent? Do I really have a home in Adventism or am I deluding myself with thoughts of what Adventism could be? Should I give up on Adventism? Has it given up on me and those like me (or worse, become hostile to us)?

I would sincerely, welcome dialogue on this subject from my local Pastors, or representation from local leadership.

My spiritual journey has often been transparent. I share it on my blog. While not as widely read as I would like it becomes a form of public record and is useful to others in their own circumstance. Writing helps to focus my own thoughts, and forces me to avoid hazy thinking. I am not posting this letter, at this time, on my blog though I contemplated writing it as an open letter. I hope to do so in the future hopefully together with the results of a dialogue if those who respond are willing.


Ron Corson


perpetualstudent said...

That was a well written letter. I had posed a similar question to the pastor of my local church as well. His response was there was room for diverse opinions and then he spent the next two weeks sending me material to try to convince me of the conservative position. He did not ask for my resignation from any of my positions. I have since resigned because I realized that I had probably drifted beyond even a progressive SDA position.

Anonymous said...

Ron, I like your letter. (BTW, sorry to be anonymous but I don't have an account or website etc. which seems to be required to put some kind of name here). It raises an interesting question that I've been asking myself lately. As the fundamentalists (or historic Adventists or whatever you want to call them) become increasingly militant in their drive to "take back their church" (as evidenced by the LSU campaign, GYC, etc., as well as the general shift in many SDA institutions and leadership over the past generation or so), coupled with the demographic shift that also drives us in that direction, what SHOULD progressives do? Should we fight back? (not in our nature) Should we just leave? (many do, one by one) Should we stay but cloak ourselves, working from the inside to change the church (but why, and how influential can we be)? Should we split while we still have some of us left and form another denomination? (I don't see us as that motivated) What do you think we should do?

perpetualstudent, I know the feeling. Open up a bit and then get barraged with junk by people who don't even grasp the issues let alone the key arguments. But did you "drift" or were you "led" out of the church by your quest for truth? If the latter, can we accurately say we've drifted, or is it more like the SDA church started as a progressive movement on a march, and then stopped marching but some people have continued on? (or is it self-important arrogance on the part of progressives to think that?)

Ron Corson said...

Well Anonymous (by the way you can always sign your name at the end of your comment if you wanted)you have laid out the options pretty well. At some point the Progressives Adventists will have to realize that they are being driven out of the church and instead of the continual one by one family by family constant exodus to other Christian churches we should begin to make the break as groups to start independent congregational churches.

I think the that we Progressive Adventists since we are in traditional churches don't really bring people into the church because we know they won't be happy there, we aren't happy there. We know that the Adventists church won't support us and likely not those we bring in either and we find it difficult to support a church which won't support us and thinks of itself as the repository of truth when we know it is not, it stopped growing years ago.

The problem is that Progressive Adventists always seem to hope that they can change things. And up to a point the past 30 years have supported that idea. But we seem to have reached a tipping point where Traditional Adventists can't seem to get past. And they having an actual support structure in place are making their stand.

The answer I think is most likely a split, not to form another denomination because that is a road to a rut but independent churches, and yes it probably needs to be done sooner before Progressive Adventists drift away and become affiliated with other Christian churches where we have to deal with their rut of beliefs like eternal torment in hell and inerrant scripture (you may not believe how prevalent that one is when you read your local churches beliefs but it is very common)and especially if one can no longer accept the idea of God pouring out His wrath on Jesus in Penal Substitution, there are indeed areas where some parts of Adventism has really advanced and it would be a shame to have to start over completely on an individual basis.

ne said...

Thank you Ron. How amazing that the experiece you feel could be exactly the same as I do, as running a progressive blog in Sweden. I struggle with the same questions and realize how difficult it is to change the direction of a cruise ship. My experience is now to be dismissed from my local engagement in the church, without any honest explanation. On the blog I have a not yet published post with my decition to focus on more important matters in the Kingdom that the intrachurch debate, where there is to little influence, and to much blod and tears. The real looser is the people Jesus died for, i.e. the sick and poor...
I´ll follow you closely, and pray for your struggle and the victory for the truth and free word.
Stay tuned with the Kingdom of Jesus