Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Doctrines define relationship in the church

There may actually be some hope that the Seventh-day Adventist church is waking up from their self induced delusions. Recently the Adventist Review in an article my Andy Nash actually admitted that Adventists are leaving the church due to not believing Adventist doctrine. Up until now he points out people left, and yes they left in a big way, over relationship issues. He writes of the past this way:
Past studies indicated that if someone left the Adventist Church, it was almost always because of bad experiences or relationships, not because they changed their beliefs.

In a 1998 report, “Why Do Adventists Quit Coming to Church?” prepared by the Center for Creative Ministry, Adventist researcher Monte Sahlin wrote: “Three out of four leave for reasons having to do with their relationships with people and groups, while less than one in five leave because they no longer believe in some teaching of the church.”
Then he goes on to write about a new study:
The study, “Former Seventh-day Adventist Perceptions of the Seventh-day Adventist Church,” was conducted in 2011 by Southern Adventist University’s School of Business under the direction of marketing professor Lisa Goolsby. Goolsby was approached by Pastor Jerry Arnold and member Ken DeFoor of the Collegedale, Tennessee, Community church about exploring the reasons members are leaving the church. More than 600 former Adventists from throughout the U.S. were invited to answer questions online; 190 participated.

When asked why they quit attending the Adventist Church, 49 percent of respondents cited disagreement or disenchantment with Adventist doctrine, while another 10 percent cited their own lifestyle choices being out of harmony with church teachings. Only 38 percent of responses cited a bad personal experience or “other” reason for leaving. (The respondents were able to cite more than one reason.)

When respondents were invited to give open-ended feedback about their departure from the Adventist Church, 68 percent of the comments concerned Adventist doctrine, 47 percent concerned judgmental attitudes or other problems within the church, 31 percent concerned cofounder Ellen G. White, and 15 percent concerned legalism. (The respondents were able to submit multiple comments, which were then categorized.) “
Now for some analysis. First that last paragraph above. 68% of comments concerned Adventist doctrine and another 31% Ellen White. As most know Ellen White as a prophet is included in the 28 fundamental beliefs of Adventism. So of the comments received it would be more telling to say that 68+11= 79% we related to doctrines of the Adventist church.

In fact it really appears that those claiming relationship issues as the previous reason for Adventists leaving the Adventist church is probably inaccurate as well. So if we search for the 1998 report “Why Do Adventists Quit Coming to Church?” we would probably find a similar gloss over the real reason for the relationship problems. But unless you are connected to some Adventist school you are not likely to find the 1998 report. So I can't really comment on its methodology or conclusions. But there is an article that seems to draw heavily from the report.

The Seventh-day Adventist church puts out a study guide, the Ifollow Discipleship Series in their lesson plan entitled Member Care: Reconnecting they write the following:

Here are some depressing statistics: In most Adventist Churches across North America, typical Sabbath attendance is equal to about 50 percent to 55 percent of the total num-ber of members on the books. A number of churches have completed a name-by-name analysis of their entire membership list and found that typically a third of the members have not attended even once in the past 12 months. “Shut-ins” were not counted in this percentage.

A survey of active members found that 72 percent report that they have a relative or friend who used to be an active member of the Adventist Church but has since dropped out. Dr. Roger Dudley, director of the Institute of Church Ministry at Andrews University, followed a random sample of 13 and 14-year-olds from Adventist families for 10 years, until they were 24 and 25 years of age. About 65 percent had left the Church over those ten years and only 10 percent had returned later, or a net loss of more than half of our young people. It is estimated that there are one or two million former, inactive and “fringe” Adventists in North America and about 500,000 active members who attend at least once a month. Why do we have such a big dropout problem? Ten major studies have been completed by Adventist researchers since the mid-1970s and much has been learned that can provide some answers. Most grew up in the Adventist faith, and were not converts from evangelism. The most common “dropout” is an adult under 50. The median age of drop- outs is 40. The median age of members is 51.

A survey of the general public conducted by the Center for Creative Ministry asked: “Have you ever heard of or read about the Seventh-day Church?” Seven in ten of those over 50 said “Yes,” but only 58 percent of those 30 to 49 years of age; 35 percent of those 18 to 29; and a disappointing 10% of those under 18. Clearly, the Adventist Church
is not connecting with new generations of Americans, even those raised in its own families and schools. And it’s likely that some of the above reasons, especially worship and music style, have something to do with it.

Another place where we’re clearly failing to minister effectively is when people face storms in their lives. Dropouts are three times as likely as active members to be divorced and remarried, and four times as likely to be divorced and single. They are more likely to report stressful life events and moves from one home to another. Yet surely the church is the place where someone facing a major life crisis can most expect to be truly heard, held, and comforted!

Six in ten former members had a non-member spouse as compared with 28 percent of the active members. Did members make a concerted effort to make friends with the non-member spouses, without making it look like they only wanted to add them to the books?

Here are some reasons these former members give for why they left the church: “There is too much politics in the Adventist church [and] church leaders are more concerned with the number of baptisms than the people baptized. The church has too many rules and regulations. Adventists think they can work their way into heaven, and the church is too organized.” They did not feel accepted by the other church members. “The coldness of church members influenced them toward leaving the church, also bigotry, hypocrisy, and judgmental attitudes.” They may express a lack of Adventist friends, and a lack of visits from church members and pastors.

A significant number leave because of dissatisfaction with local church leaders; there is a perception of a lack of sympathy by church leaders for their problems.

In other words, no matter what the life crisis or the reason for leaving, the bottom line is, dropouts are people who never bonded with the core group of their congregation. Two out of three, while they were active members, did not have an office or volunteer role in the congregation. They report few visits by church members or pastors, even while they
were still regular attenders.

Three out of four leave for reasons having to do with their relationships with people and groups; while less than one in five leave because they no longer believe in some teaching of the church. Often it’s for reasons that have already been outlined above. Problems arose which were not addressed, and the person just slipped away. The sad fact is, what most
likely happened back at church is that people shook their heads, assumed the person “wasn’t really committed,” and continued to bring names up as prayer requests, but did not do anything.

Here is the key, in their analysis 75% leave over relationship issues, the last paragraph above says that the reasons are mainly those outlined above and can be summed up as people at the church assuming the person “wasn’t really committed”. Why would they be assumed to not be committed? Because much of what they classed as relationship issues were doctrinally related and the relationship strain came because the person questioned or didn't tow the line of necessary belief in some perceived Adventist fundamental. Take a look at the reasons listed earlier in the quoted material from Ifollow. Let us list those reasons:

1. There is too much politics in the Adventist church
2. Church leaders are more concerned with the number of baptisms than the people baptized.
3. The church has too many rules and regulations.
4. Adventists think they can work their way into heaven,
5. The church is too organized.”
6 They did not feel accepted by the other church members. “The coldness of
church members influenced them toward leaving the church, also bigotry, hypocrisy, and
judgmental attitudes.”
7. They may express a lack of Adventist friends, and a lack of visits from church members and pastors.

There is something that seems to underline most of those reasons. The politics of the church is about agreeing with the church, that will affect how well you fit in the church if you are in or out. Leaders concerned with numbers instead of dealing with issues and questions is again related to doctrine. Rules and regulations are supposedly Biblically derived so again doctrinal. They did not feel accepted, which is again the politics of being in the right group, the one that assumes they have the truth if you are not part of them then those who think they have the truth treat the outsiders coldly. And lastly Adventist friends lacking because they have not been taken into the political power in the church that is endorsed and given power by the leadership of the Adventist church which naturally support loyalty. From my experience it does appear that since the 70's it has been doctrinally based relationship problems that moved people out of the Adventist church for the most part.

Now let me give you a very recent example of how this works using my favorite example of foolish Adventism. Stephen Foster on newest article.

It makes about as much sense (to me) for a Seventh-day Adventist Christian to challenge the inspiration and authority of Ellen White as it does for a Calvinist to challenge the theological authority/bona fides of John Calvin, or a Lutheran of Luther. Yet some members of the voluntary Christian sect or denomination which was co-founded by White—whose commentary on the Bible and whose exegeses and interpretation of the Bible are the result of a prophetic gifting of God—routinely reject her messages (and/or reject the reality of her gifting).

Contradictorily and ironically, some of these individuals believe that they have been given the same or similar gifting; and that, since they live in the present, their gifting is representative of present truth—even though their “truth” may deny or contradict some of what White wrote in great detail.

I view all such claims as bogus at best; and, quite frankly, actually have a much stronger negative opinion of them.

More candidly in my opinion, the ultimate purpose of all efforts to discredit Ellen White is the purposeful destruction of the Advent movement generally, and of its interpretation of the Third Angel’s message in particular.

(Now, of course, I could be wrong; but I’d wager everything that I’m not.)

Basically SDA’s and those who are not SDA have differences with regard to interpretations—and implications resulting from interpretations—of the books of Genesis, Daniel, and The Revelation. This is no different at all than the differences between Adventist conservatives and liberals.

So what are we to do when we fundamentally disagree with what ‘we’ represents? Can those who fundamentally disagree remain together? Can a divided house somehow remain standing?

Inspiration provides the following guidance:
“Christ's servants are grieved as they see true and false believers mingled in the church. They long to do something to cleanse the church. Like the servants of the householder, they are ready to uproot the tares. But Christ says to them, ‘Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest.’ He then continues the Ellen White quote.

Now is there any question how such a person will treat those with questions about Ellen White or what the meaning Adventists put on the 3 angels messages or any other interpretation? Such people are tares, at best they are not committed at worst they are agents of evil seeking to destroy the church, after all loyalty to the church is the key to their thinking. To disagree with a doctrine, to acknowledge an old earth or realities of evolution etc is to attempt to destroy the SDA church.

It is rather simple doctrines inform how one relates to others. The remnant mentality, the we have the truth and unless you accept it you are evil will lead to broken relationships. But possibly the Adventist church is beginning to realize just what they have produced with all of the Stephen Fosters that they have filled their churches with. To late for millions of us though...then again just realizing they have a problem is far from actually fixing the problem.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Symposium on Atonement shows no change for Adventism.

Adventist Today Website gives us a report on the recent event in Loma Linda University where the Adventist Theological Society (ATS) held a symposium upon the subject of Atonement theories.

The article is written by someone who agrees with the Substitutionary theory of the atonement and keeps calling the ATS centrist. In one paragraph he writes the following:

Moskala was careful to point out the positive contributions of each of the theories.  He stated that Christ took the penalty of sin upon himself, citing 2 Corinthians 5:21.  “When we come to Jesus, He took our sin and gives us His righteousness.”  Jesus became a curse for us (Galatians 3:13).  The presenter  cited Romans 1:16-18 and mentioned that both the Righteousness of God and the Wrath are revealed.  “God’s truth is paradoxical.  God’s love and justice need to be related.”  He mentioned the Biblical Flood as an example of God’s grace and justice. He also stated that “Substitution should be taken seriously,” and that the death of Jesus was a punishment for sin.  Jesus experienced God’s wrath.  Isaiah 53:4-6 presents Calvary as a punishment—Jesus was “pierced for our transgressions. … Here is the plain image of the Substitution. God’s character is revealed, with both love and justice included in the law.  The God of the Bible is a God of love, truth, justice, freedom and order.”
Notice his most affirmative statement that Jesus experienced God's wrath. For that he uses a foreshadowing statement found in Isaiah, not anything from the New Testament actually written after the event. The reason for that of course is that there is not one verse in the New Testament where it says that Jesus experienced the wrath of God. And you really can't take all of the things that Isaiah says in those sections as affirmations about Jesus, read it some time and see.

Dr. Jiri Moskala also says that Jesus took the penalty of sin upon himself. But what is the penalty of sin? Well it is the second death as recorded in the book of Revelation. The specifics of the second death is that it is eternal resurrection. Jesus was killed by human means, the Crucifixion was a human torture and death devised and preformed by humans.  He was also resurrected from the dead on the third day. Of course if you listen to Adventist they will claim that Jesus suffered the second death, though they have no Biblical reason for this but as the article state the ATS holds Ellen White as inspired. As their statement says: "“Adventists believe that God inspired Ellen G. White. Therefore, her expositions on any given Bible passage offer an inspired guide to the meaning of texts without exhausting their meaning or preempting the task of exegesis..." It does not take much to realize that the statement is a fiction and that the dependence on Ellen White very much stops exegesis. The whole second death thing is ample proof of that. In fact if you go back to the texts that Moskala uses 2 Corinthians 5:21 which is the paradoxical conclusion to a rather convoluted argument Paul makes it is very much equivalent to a proof texting technique. But we still sin and we aren't all that righteous so just what does that even mean. It is hard to take such things serious as if they are meant to tell us that Jesus paid in one person the penalty for all people. This idea that Jesus paid the penalty of sin denies the very nature of forgiveness. Because you don't have to punish someone to forgive them. Jesus' Message was that of forgiveness not penalty.  The substitutionary atonement theory degrades the gospel. It encourages pagan ideas about God and it is not something that Paul taught. It was not an accepted idea until the 11th century and it grew out of Anselm's Satisfaction theory of the atonement.

It is sad that such poor analysis is preformed by the ATS. But as long as they must agree with Ellen White they have no other choice because their inspired prophet was very much a Penal theorist.  Which could well lead to a second article on why the followers of Graham Maxwell ignore what Ellen White actually said and so often claim she was not penal or substitutionary in her view of the atonement. In my view Adventism is doomed to failure and innovation because of Ellen White. No one who continues to accept her as an inspired interpreter of the Bible can ever disagree with Ellen. Even though Ellen was very much a person of her times and should never be given the authority that Adventism has done with such things as calling her the Spirit of Prophecy, pen of inspiration, messenger of the Lord etc.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

And a fool shall led them

This blog has often addressed the foolishness of one of the bloggers, Stephen Foster. But this time I would like to address a comment from another Atoday blogger and the brother of Stephen Foster, Preston Foster. Here is what he wrote in the comment section of the article Post Script: Jack’s Last Words on Old Earth Creationism
"How is it logical to supply Bible reproof texts about Jesus that validate that He is the truth, if the Bible itself is an unreliable source?
If the Bible's account of creation is not reliable or is an analogy, would not the rest of the Bible, particularly an account of the immaculate conception, the virgin birth, and God as Man be more suspect?  Jesus believed the 10 Commandments (and came to fulfill them for us, then to die in our place for our transgression of them).  

As Stephen Foster pointed out earlier, the 10 Commandments begin, "And God spake all these words saying . . ." (Exodus 20:1) and continue "Six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work.  But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God . . .   For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it" (Exodus 20: 8-11).

Which part of that is fallible?  If any part of it is fallible -- and the law defines sin, what, then, is sin (or is there sin at all)?  This is not a slippery slope, it is a ski jump."

This is so revealing about the kind of people that fundamentalist are. First line why quote the Bible if it is an unreliable source. This presumes that to be reliable the Bible must be 100% accurate but we know it is not. It presumes that the Bible is a dictation of God, which it is not. It presumes that of the many writers all had the same level of understanding which they did not. And it presumes that one cannot draw conclusions from what is written if not everything written is completely accurate. All these presumptions are errors.
Next line:  "If the Bible's account of creation is not reliable or is an analogy, would not the rest of the Bible, particularly an account of the immaculate conception, the virgin birth, and God as Man be more suspect?"
This is kind of an amazing statement as the Bible says nothing about the immaculate conception. That is a Roman Catholic doctrine:
 "The Immaculate Conception is a dogma of the Catholic Church maintaining that from the moment when she was conceived in the womb, the Blessed Virgin Mary was kept free of original sin and was filled with the sanctifying grace normally conferred during baptism.[1][2]  See Wikipedia
Though he does not know too much about what he is talking about his point is that if the creation myth is not accurate then there can be nothing supernatural, there can be no miracles even by God's direct action in coming to humanity. Is there really any logic to such a position? Not really it is the same thing as his first line where his presumptions are assumed factual, logical or reality.

This is the kind of dialog that is presented by the fundamentalist Adventist. There is an immense divide in the Adventist church. Where some of the most foolish philosophies are embraced and propagated. The question is, can those who don't know what they are talking about be persuaded that they in fact don't know what they are talking about. The answer is likely no. This would explain why religion seems to always divide, Denominations split and form a new group and it splits the presumptions remain and the self evaluation disappears as the traditions become set in concrete.

We will never find the answer in our knowledge because even those who self evaluate cannot see themselves clearly enough to overcome all of our presumptions. Yet I still feel that we should be able to see obvious foolishness, is that really too much to ask?

Friday, April 05, 2013

Is Universalist a dirty word

A Facebook friend pointed me to the following article by Brian McLaren after I had mentioned writing something on universalism: His blog article begins with the following question:

Q & R: Are You a Universalist? Or a Whig?

Here's the Q:
After reading "Why did Jesus, et al, cross the road," I wanted to ask your thoughts on universal salvation, since you seemed to "dance around" this idea throughout the book. Is Christianity the "have" and other religions the "have-nots?" I would love it if you were to write a book on the subject …
Now I would like to be able to say what his answer was but he really danced around the issue. Even at the end of this article he says this is his best brief answer:
“My critics love to say that I'm evading (dancing around) the issue. I wish they could come to understand that it's much worse than that. I'm rejecting the whole paradigm that defines the issue as it does.”
Now I have no problem rejecting an entire paradigm. I do it on a lot of things. But to reject does you no good unless you define what you do believe. In the case of Universalism there is not really some deep theological presuppositions involved.
Universalism: a : a theological doctrine that all human beings will eventually be saved
There is no real need to go into what saved means or original sin, hell or judgment. To say that he cannot give a one word answer means that he is afraid to actually reveal his beliefs. Now there are good reasons to not want to admit that all will be saved the critic will say, “so you believe Hitler will be saved”. People don't like that...they like the idea of most everyone saved but not everyone there is always some characters from history that they don't want God to grant salvation to.
McLaren writes:
Universalism is one of three "theo-political parties" that arose in an era that shared a dominant assumption: the Christian faith is primarily a solution to the problem of original sin, which is a condition that dooms all humans to eternal conscious torment in hell. "What is Christianity for?" All three parties agreed: to get as many souls as possible out of hell and into heaven after death. Jesus mattered because belief in him was the ticket to heaven. Based on this shared assumption, the three parties differed on the scope of Jesus' saving-from-hell work.”
From the Adventist prospective none of that really works. We don't believe in original sin. We don't believe in eternal conscious torment in hell. Of course Adventists don't believe in universalism either. But that is based more upon judgment then upon original sin or a God granted gift of torture. In fact it is not true of the Unitarians of the 1800's who actually popularized the term universalism. See the Wikipedia article

He goes on to say:
For us,
A) The Christian faith is about the good news of God proclaimed and embodied by Jesus Christ and affirmed, explored, and applied by the apostles, rooted in the Scriptures, and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
B) Salvation derives its meaning in the Bible from God's liberation (salvation) of Hebrew slaves in Egypt. It is about God's ongoing work in creation to liberate from slavery, oppression, exploitation, lust, greed, pride, and all other forms of sin and evil.
C) Christianity is a movement of people joining God in the healing of the world, beginning with ourselves, following the way of Jesus.
In that sense, salvation is universal in intent - of course! In that sense, I am a universalist because I believe God loves all that has been created (Psalm 145:8-9). God "is not willing for any to perish," but desires all to discover the liberating truth. So when people like me hear exclusivists act as if God elected some to privilege and others to damnation, we can't stop asking questions.... What kind of God would create a universe planning to consign much of it to destruction and even worse - to eternal conscious torment? And if people end up in hell "by mistake" - not by God's pre-planned intention - why would God have decided that was a risk worth taking? What kind of God would find it "self-glorifying" to enjoy bliss in heaven with the redeemed while the unredeemed suffer eternally down in the basement? What kind of people would, upon sober reflection, consider that end to be blissful? Is that the best "good news" that Christianity can muster - eternal salvation of a few, eternal damnation of the rest?”
When we say things like that, Exclusivists say, "Aha! So you're universalists after all! You believe everything is going to end up fine so there is no need for Christian evangelism and mission."
My problem with his article is that he in fact dances around the subject. He seems to be a universalist but fearful of admitting it. After all if you read the Wikipedia article you see that some universalists thought that there was something akin to Purgatory before people attained the salvation. Universalism does not define how one gets there or what the duties of the Christian is here and now. So why not say “Yes I am a univeralist. I believe in a God who won't be defeated and who is not willing that any should be lost and all should be saved. So that every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is God and worthy of the title God.”
Now comes the time to redefine your Christianity. If your mission is no longer bringing souls into the church, what is it? We should have some relevance aside from the old tradition that we are bringing the knowledge of how to be saved to the unsaved. If we as Christians are no longer selling salvation we have to sell compassion and ways to live happier fuller lives. And that is a whole lot harder to demonstrate then a claim of salvation in the sweet by and by.
McLaren is right and he is wrong. Pretty much like the rest of us. But I think we really need to work on being clear when we can be clear. Talking about the Whig Party is not really that clear either. Abraham Lincoln ran as a Whig before he ran as a Republican. But most of us don't know a whole lot about what the Whig's thought anyway. The Republicans took a stand to be clear to the voters. Christianity is far too divided to be compared to U.S. Political parties, Christianity has a lot of differing beliefs we can't simply assume that there is even agreement within Christianity to disagree with. So we have to move forward with what we do believe and not with what we don't believe. Even if we don't have all the answers to all the objections. That is where the conversation comes in. Why can't God save Hitler? What should the message of the church be, should each church even have the same message or function? Christianity indeed has to change.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

I am beginning to think that one of the first things we need to do is to convert the musicians of the Christian world. The Christian churches spend so much time singing their lyrics, which in general reinforce a foolish variety of Christianity. Oh it is the dominate view no doubt but it is filled with meaningless trivialities and downright contradictory statements. Consider the following which I recently saw while visiting a church.

Notice this quote towards the end at 2:30 min:

"I came to save you from so many sins
But they have a cost
Someone has to die
You...or Me
So I took on your sin
And traded in my life for yours
And I died in your place
Because I love you"

Over all the message is fairly good. But it makes so little sense to say that "Someone has to die You or me". We all still die by the way...And who says that someone has to die because of sin? God? Why did He make that rule in the first place if it is a rule and why not tell us about this rule in the Bible? (you say surely die is a consequence of sin not an act of God). How did Jesus take my sin? I still sin don't I, I bet you do too. So He hardly took my sin as I still am busy committing it. Who did He trade His life for mine? Is God not in control? Is God doing the trading...because he says you sin and you must die...I have to kill someone because of sin!? So then Jesus comes along and shows us forgiveness...something that God would not do because God demands somebody die.

The conclusion is:
"I am the way, the truth and the life
I am Jesus
I am not here to condemn you
I came to bring you back to life
Rely on me
I will forgive you
And give you eternal life
I love you 
And I did all of this for you
To have a relationship with you
Will you follow me?"

Would not the more appropriate method be to express the love of God revealed through Jesus that He would come and show us what love is, what forgiveness is and to what length love goes in that greater love hath no man then to lay down their life. That even though evil kills and destroys it is no match for God who raises and gives life. That is the message of the cross. Not a trade, not a God that demands someone has to die. 

Yet when I saw this video at church I had just sat through the singing of 3 songs, which held that Christ paid out penalty or as the lyrics from "In Christ Alone" say:  

"Til on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live, I live"

Or this from the "Scandal of Grace" from Hillsong united:

"Too much to make sense of it all
I know that Your love breaks my fall
The scandal of grace, You died in my place 
So my soul will live"
The "wrath" of God was satisfied because Jesus is killed on the cross? Really is that the gospel?
It is not too much to make sense of if you simply remove the tradition of Penal substitutionary atonement. Which was never even part of the Bible or the early church but a church tradition built upon a misrepresentation of God.

Catchy tunes carry on a message that is contrary to the gospel. It is contrary to the nature of God and is completely foreign to the message of Jesus. And we keep it alive because we don't take time to think about what our religion is saying. It is time to reclaim the God of love and leave the god of paganism behind.