There is a wide gulf between Progressive Adventists and Traditional Adventists but there has been very little written about a solution to the problem. If it is a problem that is. Perhaps that is the problem there is in fact no desire to unify one side with the other.
One of the leaders in the Traditional Adventists camp is Samuel Koranteng-Pipim, PhD, in his article Going Forward, Not Backwards A Reflection on the 2010 Atlanta General Conference Session
Dr. Pipim writes:
One writer on a particular “Progressive” website described the message as a call to “Retrograde Adventism,” a call “backwards” to the 1950s or 60s (to which I will respond: If a call back to our Bible-based teachings and lifestyle practices is a call “backwards,” then it is the best kind of going back. I only wish the call would not end in the ’50s or ’60s, but would go all the way back to the first century--some 2,000 years ago--when Christ founded His Church).
Another “Progressive Adventist” friend of mine caught up with me in one of the hallways of the GC Session and remarked that the sermon was “a declaration of war” (to which I quickly responded: “No, it is not a declaration of war; the war had been raging for decades. The only thing that has changed is that the Church has found a courageous captain, who is not afraid to publicly state what our message and mission are.”).
The reaction of the critics are shrill voices of an influential minority who have largely repudiated our distinctive Adventist identity and mission, and who for years have been calling for an “open tent” Church in which theological error should be embraced as an option. I am encouraged that their views do not represent the longstanding or present position of the Church. I’m equally heartened by the fact that an overwhelming majority of young people today--the real future of the church--do not share the views of backslidden Adventism that masquerades today as “Progressive.” Cooped up in their parochial orbit, they are totally out of touch with where the real Seventh-day Adventist Church is.
I would agree with his first paragraph of his article quotation the church should go back to a more reasoned religion well before Ellen White and the face saving device known as the Investigative Judgment, back when the Spirit of Prophecy was a reference to the Spirit of God and not a 19th century woman. I have often used C.S. Lewis' quote in this regard:
“We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turn, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man. . .There is nothing progressive about being pigheaded and refusing to admit a mistake." C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1952), Book I, Chap. 5, p. 22.
The second paragraph above I would also agree with. There has been for decades a war between Progressive and Traditional Adventists. I would even agree with the idea that Ted Wilson is a courageous captain for Traditional Adventists. After all in wars a captain does not have to be right just able to lead for his cause. People can go down in history for their courageous opposition such as Dominican theologian Sylvester Mazzolini who drafted a heresy case against Luther, they may not be right but being a leader does not mean the person is leading in the right direction.
It is the third paragraph above that really shows the attitude of the Traditional Adventists toward Progressive Adventists. Progressive Adventists are masquerading as Adventists, they are backsliders or apostate Adventists in their limited orbit of theological error out of touch with real Seventh-day Adventists. So how would we expect the Traditional Adventists to want to reach out to theological error prone falsely called Adventists?
Over on the Adventist Today blog there was an article by Preston Foster entitled Liberal and Conservative Work Avoidance. His point is that Traditional and Progressive Adventists have been avoiding the work of the mission of the the Adventist church. His concluding paragraph reads:
The energy of EGW supporters is, many times, expended more on defending her writings than in lifting up the Bible. The energy of her detractors is often spent more on proving her errors rather than on pointing to Jesus. The energy expended by both sides looks like important work. What is important is not the same as what is vital.
The distraction is an enticing focal point. For some, it is an occupation. However we, as a group, have work to do. That is, to lift up Christ and prepare ourselves and others to meet Him. We are all busy working. However, activity is no substitute for accomplishment.
He is close to being right, but what is the work we are called to do (spreading the gospel), to each side of the Adventist fence? In an earlier blog article Preston told us that our mission as Adventist was not to spread the gospel but to spread the 3 angel's messages of Revelation 14, he writes in his article Have We Lost Sight of Our Mission?
Commitment to a mission creates a sense of urgency and expectation: a reason for self-sacrifice. A clear mission provides a focal point for everything an organization does. A clear mission gives a private direction, even when the captain provides no specific orders.
Think about it: when was the last time you heard a sermon on the essential teaching of Adventism: the Third Angel's Message? If you were not Adventist and visited and Adventist church only one time, would you leave with a clear understanding of the link between the last day events and the Sabbath? We've even changed our logo from three angels sounding their trumpets to a more vague, not threatening flame.
If the Christian Gospel is not the mission of Traditional Adventists should Progressive Adventists really want to work with the Traditional Adventists. I suppose many people do not fully realize what Adventists mean when they use the term three angel's messages or third angel's message. These are code words for Adventist distinctive beliefs. Such as the Seventh day Sabbath to be a final end time test (those who observe receive the seal of God and those who do not receive the mark of the beast by rejecting God's commandment), the Investigative Judgment begun in 1844 and of course Ellen White as the Spirit of Prophecy so that with her the Adventist church can be the remnant church of Revelation. The Christian Gospel...the Gospel we see in the New Testament is not the gospel that the Traditional Adventists hold dear. Oh it is to their credit something that should be included in the reason for their Traditional Adventism but the gospel is not enough.
Mission emphasis is one thing but what if the gospel that the Traditional Adventists espouse is not even good news, what if it is a distorted view of God? With the Japanese earthquake so recent I saw this post on Facebook from a Traditional Adventist relative, a quote from Ellen White under the title If Heaven’s Warnings Go Unheeded:
I am bidden to declare the message that cities full of transgression, and sinful in the extreme, will be destroyed by earthquakes, by fire, by flood. All the world will be warned that there is a God who will display His authority as God. His unseen agencies will cause destruction, devastation, and death. All the accumulated riches will be as nothingness....
Calamities will come—calamities most awful, most unexpected; and these destructions will follow one after another. If there will be a heeding of the warnings that God has given, and if churches will repent, returning to their allegiance, then other cities may be spared for a time. But if men who have been deceived continue in the same way in which they have been walking, disregarding the law of God and presenting falsehoods before the people, God allows them to suffer calamity, that their senses may be awakened....
The Lord will not suddenly cast off all transgressors or destroy entire nations; but He will punish cities and places where men have given themselves up to the possession of Satanic agencies. Strictly will the cities of the nations be dealt with, and yet they will not be visited in the extreme of God’s indignation, because some souls will yet break away from the delusions of the enemy, and will repent and be converted, while the mass will be treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath.— Evangelism, p. 27.
Is that the gospel, is that the way a God of love would act? As if a disaster says anything, you may attribute it to a god but which god will it be? When your God says love me or I will kill you, you have a serious problem. When He talks by causing disasters you don't really know anything about what or who He is you only know what somebody else is claiming, can you imagine doing that to your child?
There still is a solution but I don't think many Adventists will like it. That is take to the time to see God in a reasonable way. Think about what you believe and what your beliefs say about God. Are we presenting a God that seeks to draw people to Himself or a vindictive cruel and unreasonable God. Do our doctrines make sense, do they help us understand God and appreciate Him. Because that is really the gospel. The good news is that God is not mean and vindictive, that He is loving and kind and seeks the best for you even when you make poor choices. God offers you something better then threats and punishment, poor choices and decisions almost universally lead to disaster none of us needs God to punish us for our mistakes whether it is building on a fault line or rejecting the offer of healing. When Adventists can agree on the simple gospel maybe we can finally get along.