Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Myth of the Church as a whole

Have you ever wondered what people mean when they say the “church as a whole”? First we know from the context that when it is used it rarely is meant to refer to the Christian church as a whole. It is usually meant in a denominational sense. Here is an example used against the Progressive Adventist view:

“You have gone on record as not believing some of the teachings our “church as a whole” sincerely believes as true.”

Bill Cork on his blog uses the term this way:

“Some who would describe themselves as “liberals,” “evangelicals,” or perhaps even “centrists,” on the other hand, are convinced that the Seventh-day Adventist Church as a whole has rightly moved away from the teachings defended by M. L. Andreasen (the leading critic of Questions on Doctrine in the 1950s) and Herbert Douglass (who has defended the same views throughout his career of denominational employment).”

Bill Cork points out that the Adventist church still publishes the last generation perfection books of Andreasen and Douglass and I could speculate that many thought that the church as a whole supported the book Questions on Doctrines. People like Douglass (see link here for Douglass’ thoughts on QOD) or Larry Kirkpatrick would probably disagree that the church as a whole accepted the book Questions on Doctrines.

Different people with different perspectives may refer to the Adventist church as a whole but what do they mean by their respective use of the statement? We know that there are diverse views within the Adventist church on many topics. Some such as what happened in 1844 and what the Investigative Judgment is are quickly changing within the church. But does the “church as a whole” have a position? The fact is that Adventists even within America have not even tried to poll the church membership for their positions. But then again if the local church or the church publications does not inform the membership of the various views even if the membership was polled would the poll be of value? Knowing what people who don’t know what the issues are is relatively useless.

The knowledge base of the church is questionable because we can be pretty sure that most of the issues where there is a difference of opinion upon traditional SDA views are not really being discussed in the local church sermons or church publications. After all why discuss the various possibilities if you can simply state that the church as a whole has already decided the issues.

So what actually happens is that the idea of what the whole church believes is based upon what the leadership of the church declares, what the leadership of the church allows to be published. The frightening thing is that the leadership of the church is a self serving bureaucracy. It is not the church as a whole. Even on the 5 year sessions the vast majority of the representatives are employees of the church. As I stated in a previous blog post:

…So If I assumed that each of those 4 categories equally made up the 50% of the session delegates that would give us 301 laypersons to 2108 denominational employee delegates. Even of those 2108 employees 1054 would be administrative denominational employees.

Remember this quote: “You have gone on record as not believing some of the teachings our “church as a whole” sincerely believes as true.” That quote is from a denomination employee, it is in the self interest of the employees to maintain the system as it is. It provides their living, it is their job security and as such innovation or restructuring on any level are generally against their self interest. To make their life easier they resort to the tactic of assuming that whatever the leadership says is what the church as a whole believes. They have no real evidence that the church as a whole believes one way or another, what they have is the results of General Conference sessions which are dominated by the churches administration and denominational employees. The assumption of course being that the local churches appointed representatives to the sessions, but as we have seen by the numbers those representatives are far outnumbered by employees. If you have been part of a local church for a while you also know that you have little say on who becomes part of the conference leadership as well.

Consider this portion of a comment on the EducateTruth Website which was created to decry the use of evolution in science classes, (I will ignore the spelling errors etc):

This would not, and does not remove the responsibility of the school administration to remove the teachers AND other staff who are not teaching and/or supporting the churches stated beliefs. All SDAs voiced the embracing of all Seventh-day Adventists fundamentals upon interring the church. How anyone can believe they have a right to make their own personal decision to insist that the church as a whole should embrace a ‘new idea’ without it being first cleared through the proper procedure is just impossible for me to understand. All the people I have known who come to disagree with what they originally (upon entering the church) believed, simply withdrew their membership.

This comment shows two of the myths of the “church as a whole” assumption. First it shows that some people think that when we were baptized and joined the SDA church we agreed to SDA fundamental beliefs. Which of course did not exist prior to 1980 (then the 27 Fundamental Beliefs) so no, many did not join agreeing to SDA fundamental beliefs. As if one can’t make personal decisions against the beliefs of the church, that the now 28 Fundamental beliefs are a membership creed; if they disagree they must withdraw membership. It also shows that there is this idea that if one has a personal belief different from the SDA leadership that expressing that idea is equivalent to insisting that the whole church should embrace your idea.

It is interesting to see how some people feel that those with different ideas will inflict them upon others the way the Adventist church inflicts its ideas (going against the “church as a whole”). If the church is not capable of discussing and analyzing ideas within the church how can it expect to reach people outside the church. After all we are asking them to discuss and analyze our denominations ideas versus their denominations ideas or whatever their religious or non religious tradition may be. In fact if we can’t discuss the differing ideas within the church including within our young peoples church lives we end up not educating them to the realities that they will find when they get out on their own, outside the umbrella of Adventist educational systems. Because we don’t do that we lose most of our youth in the Western world. We pretend that our churches leadership has given us all the answers and everything else just causes controversy and become a stumbling block. As if because people have sincere beliefs they must be sound beliefs.

With myths like that of the “church as a whole” we have hurt ourselves and our children, our friends and our society. We become out of touch and out of date and sadly proud of it.

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