A recent Adventist Today article by Melissa Howell entitled Why Are They Leaving? Covers some of the material that this blog has discussed but it also shows a fatal disconnect in Adventism. That disconnect is summed up with this quote from the article:
“Thankfully, one giant we still have in our ranks is the fact that it's almost never our beliefs that make them leave. The Adventist message, our fundamentals, and the Bible truth as we see it are usually not where the problem lies. Most still see ours as the correct understanding. Most still believe in the Sabbath, the state of the dead, the second coming, the health message and the three angels' messages…”
While Melissa’s article is about young people she reflects the same idea that I have seen other denominationally employed writers put forth. The fact is you cannot separate your doctrines from your relevance. After all your doctrines are the teachings of your church, if your church is not relevant how can what you teach be relevant? The other error with the assumption is the idea that youth or adults have this great acceptance of the “Adventist Message, or “our fundamentals” “the health message” and particularly the code word used “the three angels messages” which covers everything Adventists teach including the investigative judgment and 1844. The importance of 1844 and the Investigative judgment is certainly not readily accepted by many Adventists.
In an article on this blog I quoted Bailey Gillespie, Ph.D. Professor of Theology and Personality Director of the John Hancock Center for Youth and Family Ministry School of Religion La Sierra University at the Pacific Northwest Adventist Association Forum presentation on what we know from the Valuegenesis studies: He stated:
“However three of the least believed doctrines show up in every study we do in every single group we do they are the same three in the same order. The sanctuary doctrine definitely believed by only 20 percent of your young people in Washington 20 % [meaning Washington state where the forum occurred] of your kids so all the other doctrines except these three are right up there 20% definitely believe this one. The Remnant 42% the next one 42% definitely believe and you know what the next one is Ellen White 36%...”
If we were to state that in a more familiar form it would be 20% believe in the Adventist Sanctuary doctrine, 80% do not believe in the Adventist Sanctuary Doctrine.
42% believe that the Adventist church is the Remnant church. 58% that it is not the Remnant church.
36% believe Ellen White is a prophet. 64% that Ellen White is not a prophet.
Of course in polls you can never simply say the negative is made up of the remainder of those holding to an affirmation. The reason is that there are likely gradients of opinions and then there is always that 5 to 10% who don’t know or have no opinion. I put the negative numbers there to be used as a contrast. When you have numbers like that you really can’t be going around saying that youth or adults don’t leave the SDA church over doctrines.
However if we move back to the concept of doctrines and relevance aside from some particularly troublesome doctrines as listed above there is a good quote from and Adventist Review article by Margaret G. Dudley, Ph.D., a counselor and retired Andrews University faculty member, entitled: I don’t want to go to church anymore.
“Youth and young adults like to be able to think for themselves. Foster a thinking climate in which they can explore what the church teaches, in which they can discover the principles and biblical support behind Seventh-day Adventist doctrines, and in which they can determine the church’s relevance for today’s world. They should be able to feel comfortable asking questions as they sort through their values and make their own choices.”
This is very wise advise but notice the disconnect that occurs if one assumes what Melissa does in her quoted statement in her article. If the church feels that they have this giant in their ranks which is that Adventists have the true doctrines how could we or why would we encourage questioning of those doctrines so that the young person can find their relevance? We have simply said that they already believe them so why don’t they find them relevant? We have in effect destroyed their exploration of what the church teaches, what the Bible teaches, what they should support or not support and what relevance it has to them and the world around them.
Our myopic view based upon the assumptions that we are the remnant, we have the truth and most don’t leave the church because they have trouble with our doctrines translates to a church that disregards our own young people and their necessary exploration of what they believe.
Consider this quote from the Adventist Review; Drowning in a sea of Gray :
Kevin Kibble, associate chaplain at Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, Tennessee, believes this may be the case. “Too many still give voice to the external elements of discipleship without witnessing to the heart of the matter. Far too many in the church are preaching to the smoke and not the fire. We are making proclamations about the fruit without giving thought to the root. Many of our young adults are challenging us to speak to the core issues of salvation with a tattoo or two and a cup of coffee in their hands. They are very clever in doing so. In this way they can determine if we really can present the gospel in its greatest clarity.”
Jan Paulsen, president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, addresses these issues in his televised forum for youth, Let’s Talk.2 Questions cover topics from Ellen White to legalism to morals, but the largest grouping of questions relates to lifestyle. Adventist young adults want to know: “Will disobeying these rules—such as wearing jewelry and eating meat—really keep me from going to heaven?” “How should a young person dress?” “Do I have to ignore popular culture?”
You simply cannot get past the doctrine issue. Melissa goes on to talk of other things that would no doubt help sustain our youth in the church if we actually tried them. But we don’t try them because as the above illustrates we think we don’t have to do anything other then teach what we have been teaching. We have been deluded for so long that we don’t even realize our own lack of relevance and how that lack of relevance destroys our own youth as they look for relevance.
Melissa is right, there is a giant in our ranks, the problem is it is destroying the village and the villagers and in the end the giant will be all that remains in a silent barren world.