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
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.