The Collegedale Seventh-day Adventist Church on the campus of Southern Adventist University announced on its website that senior pastor John Nixon fainted on two separate occasions.
The announcement stated that Nixon passed out on April 24 and again on May 22 while preaching a sermon entitled "The Wrath of the Lamb."
After Spectrum contacted church administrator Wolf Jedamski asking for clarification, the website's announcement was amended, stating only that Nixon was unable to finish his sermon on May 22. The announcement now says that, "Pastor Nixon was unable to complete his sermon 'The Wrath of the Lamb' Sabbath, May 22. He was attended to by medical personnel and released that day."
The announcement also added an affirmation after the fact: "In light of recent events, we, the pastors and elders of the Collegedale Church, express our strong support for Pastor John Nixon and our gratitude for his Christ-centered, biblical preaching, theological leadership and spiritual commitment. John, we are committed to uphold you as our spiritual leader and we will continue to uphold you in our prayers."
Citing HIPAA regulations, Jedamski declined to comment on Nixon's diagnosis, stating only that he was attended to by medical personnel on May 22, and subsequently released. Jedamski did not clarify whether or not Nixon was hospitalized on April 24th.
Nixon did not respond to requests for comment.
Sermon Addresses Doctrinal Controversy
Nixon began his "Wrath of the Lamb" sermon by stating,
"There is a conflict of doctrinal teaching going on in our church, and it has become contentious. Some among us, under the guise of 'unique truth,' are promoting error concerning the character of God and the teaching is very subtle."
Nixon went on to say that he would rather discuss a less controversial topic, but said that "the stakes are too high. One misconception about who God really is leads us down a path fraught with danger, and I cannot stand silently by."
Nixon staked out what he called "the biblical teaching on this topic."
The controversial subject at hand is whether God's wrath includes "active" punishment of sin (i.e. God destroys the wicked) or "passive" punishment of sin (i.e. God withdraws protection, allowing the unrepentant to reap the natural consequences of sin). For Nixon, divine justice demands that God destroy the wicked for the sake of the weak and vulnerable.
Dr. Timothy Jennings, a psychiatrist and creator of ComeAndReason.com, sees things differently. His website advances the idea that if it is unremedied, sin, not God ultimately destroys human beings.
Jennings teaches a popular Sabbath School class that was recently moved from the Collegedale Church to Ackerman Auditorium on Southern's campus across the street. Jennings also authored two books: The Healing of the Mind, and Could it Be This Simple?
Debating God's Character
Without naming Jennings, Nixon in his sermon categorically and emphatically rejected any teaching that does not make room for God's active punishment of evil. Scripture reveals God as the God of mercy and justice, the God of life and death, the God of giving and of taking away, Nixon said.
God is compassionate and gracious, forgiving rebellion and sin. God's love is unearned and extravagant. However, Nixon said, God is also the God of justice and judgment. God's character is only complete in light of rejection and destruction of those who refuse divine mercy, he insisted. God does not leave the guilty unpunished.
For Nixon, interpretations that contradict this punitive view of God "explain away the portion we do not like," or "pretend the Bible does not mean what it says."
We must "face the uncomfortable truth with humility."
On April 24th, Nixon was preaching the sermon for the second time (Collegedale has three services) when he fainted. Undeterred, he decided to preach the sermon again nearly a month later. Again, he fainted before completing the sermon.
Noting a "volatile and fluid" situation, Jennings did not want to go on record except to say, "my position is well documented on my website and I cannot speak to the position Nixon holds other to say he has made it clear he does not support my position."
In a blog post entitled "Two Pictures of God," Jennings responded to the sermon and urged caution in reading too much into Nixon's fainting.
In the article dated April 28 (four days after Nixon's first fainting spell), Jennings quoted his eleven-year-old nephew and fourteen-year-old niece who both reported feeling scared by the God Nixon preached about. Jennings offered a quotation from Ellen White that cautioned against terrifying children with the wrath of God.
He then asked how to tell which portrait of God is accurate:
"Should we look for miracles and signs that accompany the message? Miraculous signs are not reliable evidence, because miracles can be counterfeited (remember a talking serpent). The best approach is to examine the facts, the concepts, the ideas put forth and compare them with scripture and other evidences God has provided."
Jennings listed several questions that one should ask to help in discerning truth from error.
Discernment, and perceptions of truth and error seem to be the underlying issues in this doctrinal dust up. Perhaps Jennings and Nixon will find a way to continue advancing their understandings of God's character without trading ideological blows. However, given what both seem to perceive as high stakes, the intensity of the rhetoric, and the fainting spells, accord may be unlikely.