Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Upsetting the Apple Cart

A couple of things I have been reading have led me to wonder just how much the Adventist church cares about meeting people's spiritual needs vs. how much they want to dictate people's beliefs. Most of us by now have heard that about half of the Adventists in North America will leave the Adventist church, some come back most do not. Some estimates I have heard have former Adventists as numbering 3 million and current Adventists in North America at 1 million. Let's be more optimistic and only say the number of former to current Adventists is 2:1. Would not such numbers indicate that we are doing something wrong?

I have never been a big fan of sermons so the church service portion of the Adventist church never really appealed to me. I was usually able to find an interesting and challenging Sabbath School class however. At least until recently when my friend ceased his once a month facilitation of a class at the church I was attending. Though to be fair we were weaned off his class as the more traditional folks began leading more of the sessions until it was just down to once a month. Which is a good cautionary tale that the divided philosophy of a Sabbath School class is not likely to work. Theoretically it might still work if there were two leaders in attendance who agreed to disagree on things and lead together. But that is likely a hard thing to happen.

I think the reason for the demise of the more progressive or open Adventist Sabbath School classes has to do with the Adventist church desire to dictate beliefs vs. providing a place to meet spiritual needs. If you toe the more traditional Adventist line you rise in responsibilities and respect in the local church. If you don't you will become marginalized, and if you want to survive in the church as a progressive Adventist you often learn to sit down and shut up. You can only do that for a while usually and according to the statistics you then leave.

The Adventist Today blog has an article entitled: One Step ahead of Personal and Spiritual Annihilation.
By Harry Banks. In the article he writes of someone who started a Saturday, 11 O’clock bible study at the local telephone company education center. He writes:

What? Saturday church? At the phone company? With an IT geek for a leader? Oh, and who also happened to have previously been an atheist, and we are not done yet... The group is purposefully nondenominational to attract persons who feel alienated from religion or formalized religion for whatever reason.

The fist week, Larry, the programmer leader, opened by saying that he felt a need to reach out to the people around him and make a place to engage with them where they are. No pressure to come to a certain position or place of belief, but an exchange of personal spiritual journeys whether in a context of doubt or faith. With Larry's atheist background, the agnostic, Julian Barnes' line, "I don't believe in God, but I miss him," seems to point to a possible point of contact for us all. There is that empty spot in all of us that only God can fill. Regardless of our state of belief or unbelief there is still a place in us only God can fill.

What a concept. Could such a thing happen in an Adventist church? Or would those who were so sure they had the answers...that they were the remnant, end up looking down their noses at such spiritually questioning people. Would they be viewed as wolves in sheep's clothing out to infiltrate and bring uncertainty to the certain? Perhaps they would even think that evolution of life was possible and maybe even a method that God used to create...could that be allowed in the sacred walls of an Adventist church.

I don't know, I suspect the way to find out would be to actually try such an experiment with your local church. I am pretty sure it is not the kind of Revival and Reformation that Ted Wilson (Seventh-day Adventist General Conference President) has envisioned for the Adventist church but maybe it is the kind of Reformation that could lead to a Revival. A Reformation is really about change and perhaps we need a far more radical change then a return to what did not work a hundred years ago. Maybe Ted Wilson's plan to Go Forward by going backwards is not really the answer. The question is it worth upsetting the "frozen chosen". They feel they are spiritually well off...on the right track with the right answers. They don't really want to engage with the questions so that they can maintain their answers but even so that is going to be a comfort to them and they, like the spiritual questing, need comfort in their journey. So the question is can we add more fruit to the apple cart without tipping it over and spilling all the apples. Perhaps the status quo of losing 2 apples for every 1 apple in the cart is the best we can do. It probably is unless one decides to rebuild the cart, and if you do that then you have to transfer the apples from one cart to another.

It does sound like a lot of work!


Anonymous said...

The problem is this. Everyone - including you - thinks they know what the apple cart should look like. Tell me I'm wrong Ron?

By the way, I am back. See you in class next week.


Ron Corson said...

No you are not wrong Bruce as the saying goes "opinions are like a--hole's everyone has one. So if we all have them why even mention them...we should all be silent because we all have different opinions? Of course not reasoning people can analyze opinions and decide which ones have merit and which do not. Which build up and which do not. Which include people and which exclude people. Does your church ask those question...does your church take the time to listen to the opinions or do they assume that there is only one opinion and one way of belief. You know the answer the Adventist church specializes in Revelation seminars. Ted Wilson just presented one for New York. Revelation is a book that has historically never had any agreement among Christians. I think you know the answer for most Adventist churches to that question is no. So that is most likely the problem...not that people have opinions.