Courting Controversy

(Spectrumbot) #1

While I was in Waco, TX I had the opportunity to regularly preach at my local church. The church we attended is very small and part of a district, meaning that our pastor had other churches and was not in attendance every week. I would give the sermon on the weeks he was away. Although I did not come to that church in 2010 with any thought of being involved in church life in that way, I admit now that it was of benefit to me personally (and hopefully to them) to formulate my thoughts and share and defend them within a church community. Now I think I am a pretty atypical Adventist (at least I wouldn’t describe myself as a conservative Adventist) and so from time to time I would say things that I knew most of the people in the audience did not support. Of all the things I ever said, only one thing caused someone to come and want to debate me after the service was over. In the course of a sermon one week (I don’t even remember the exact subject matter) I said that it was not an inherent sin to listen to rap music. I then talked about why listening to rap music can be a problem and why certain forms of it should be avoided, but I was clear that the issue isn’t the fact that it is rap music, but the particular song’s content that can make it problematic. But this isn’t a post about rap music. We may get into that at another time. What surprised me most was what some people said to me after the service when they came up to me to register their objection.

First, I was amazed that they had stopped listening. All they heard was, “It is not an inherent sin to listen to rap music.” They did not hear the paragraph afterwards where I explained why you should at the very least be very careful and mindful when listening to most rap music. But I was even more surprised when one man told me that raising the issue of rap music was wrong because it is a controversial subject. I was taken aback at the thought. Should we avoid subjects in the church simply because they are controversial?

If Christ is to be our example, I think the answer has to be a resounding no. There are just way too many examples in the gospels of Jesus wading into the treacherous waters of difficult issues. In Jesus’ life we see that he does not run from controversy. For example, the story is recounted in Matthew 22 of the Pharisees’ attempt to trap Christ by forcing him to comment on Roman control and oppression of the Jewish people. Jesus could’ve avoided this controversial issue by not commenting on it, or He could’ve exposed the Pharisees for their trickery. Instead He doesn’t run from the controversy, he addresses it and handles it in a way that “amazed” the people who attempted to trap Him.

Also in Jesus’ life we see that He does not always take the easy way out of a contentious issue. When the Pharisees bring to Jesus the woman caught in adultery in John 8, there was an easy answer at Jesus’ disposal. No one could fault Jesus if He told them to deal with her as the law required. If He had done so, Jesus could save Himself the trouble of avoiding the controversial nature of the situation presented to Him. By condemning her accusers and offering her the forgiveness that only He can give, Jesus seizes the opportunity to teach by addressing the controversial subject.

Finally, Jesus also courted controversy Himself by making controversial statements. In Matthew 10, Jesus says, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.For I came toset a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in law against her mother in law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.” That seems like blatantly courting controversy to me. And I am still trying to figure out what Jesus was saying here.

The church has to be willing to face and answer controversies, questions, and problems. We can’t be afraid of them. This is important because, as I have stated recently, we live in a different world now. People want honesty and truthfulness from us. They want to see that we have reasons for why we do what we do. Gone are the days when we could say “the Bible says so,” and be believed, regardless of whether the Bible actually said anything of the sort. Moreover, it becomes more important for us to address the difficult, controversial issues, because every time we do, we’re explaining it to someone for the first time. Every time we don’t, someone is wondering why we won’t just answer the question. I wonder that sometimes myself, even when I know what the answer is. When that happens, it gives me the feeling that sometimes we don’t answer questions because we’re afraid of being proven wrong – and if that’s true, then we have a much bigger controversy on our hands than listening to rap music.

Jason Hines is an attorney with a doctorate in Religion, Politics, and Society from the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He blogs about religious liberty and other issues at

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

(Thomas J Zwemer) #2

the Bible is a meta narrative with one focus. a divine rescue of a confused and reluctant humanity. The Old Testament says God is expected. The New Testament says He came, was rejected, Died, rose again and now stands as our Advocate and will return as Lord of Lords. it challenges us to accept His gift and His authority. man insists that he can Better define that authority than The Biblical narrative did. So we have creedal statements and Fundamental beliefs which Obscure rather that enlighten. the Bible is unflinching in tells us the heart of man. it is unstinting in declaring the Heart of God. That meta narrative is best summarized in the Book of Hebrews, which for selfish reasons Adventism has distorted for its own ends. God is our Maker, Redeemer, Advocate, and Lord of a Lords. He offers us kinship upon His accomplishments. Yet we insist on added our two cents to our eternal loss. May God forgive our arrogant impatience. Tom Z



You are fortunate to be in a position that the pastor is not. Your job security is not tied to the carnality of the vocal, agitating members.

My first reaction is the growing trend to make churches…“safe places”. Minimal controversy and/or opportunities to offend or annoy.

That is typical of how the contemporary system creates fanatic, insubordinate, gainsayers. (Rom 10:2 & 21). Some will wait to hear something that irks them and then get obsessed with that blemish in the sermon and sock it to you after the presentation. Tell them to get the GC to change EG White’s book title: “The Great Controversy”

I support your drive to inject controversy. Maybe it will accelerate the shaking of the “remnant church”.

There are too many smooth, shallow, superficial , cliché filled sermons and SS lessons being presented out there.

I was communicating with someone in the GC today about a verse in Hebrews that is interpreted two different ways in the denomination and outside of it too…by high profile commentators. I’m glad I brought it up, because I learned something.

On another note , I am in contact with a pastor supervisor who shared that the pastor to member ratio has decreased by more than 50% in the local conference that he serves. Not surprised. maybe they get flak like you did.

On the flip side…I am putting energy into getting the conferences /GC to implement sermon and SS presentation reviews by the members on a large scale to gauge quality and to improve it. Not a few clergy are getting sensitive to this. People are leaving churches and the ones in it are bored.

At least the person had enough concern to approach you rather than just attend church services, warm a pew, say the required amount of “happy Sabbaths” and “amens”, punch the Sabbath time clock and get out of the parking lot at warp drive speed.

Interesting timing, since the upcoming SS lesson is on Jesus…the master teacher.

Look how he shook them up just on one of the decalogue commandments(4)
In the gospels , it seems to get more attention than the other 9 put together.

I expect most SS presentations to present Jesus as the meek and mild Savior and to smooth over and palliate any rough spots of His teaching manner.

In my opinion, the constant harping on and lip service of the point that Jesus is coming soon is actually increasing the paranoia level in SDA members.

(Kim Green) #6

I agree with you, however they (church) are afraid. The real question: is it possible to make the Adventist Church less fearful?

(Carolyn Parsons) #7

Kim. This resonated down to my toes. I have been thinking about fear, especially when it comes to leadership which seems to be fearful.

(Kim Green) #8

If they really did believe that God is in control, Carolyn, this fear would not be there. My statement resonated with you because you emotionally knew it was the truth. I believe that Adventism is at a crossroads…it can either change or become increasingly irrelevant in the 21st century. Perhaps their fear is answering this question already…we shall see soon.

(Steve Mga) #9

I believe there is Fear in Both the Pew and the Pulpit.
The Pew – SDAs have been conditioned to think that when there is what they think is a new idea, such as not all Rap Music is bad, that one is trying to bring the World into the Church. Picture How Much Fear that develops if there is a guitar, keyboard, and a drum set to accompany SS song service, or Church time hymns.
3 Pastors ago in my church. The pastor played guitar, and there were 4 others in the church that did so. He got the group together and they practiced for about 3 months after church. I would stay and listen to them, and they got pretty good together. They put on a Sat PM Vesper service. [It was come only if you want to event.] He got so much flack, that he actually resigned, and was given another church by the Conf.
If the group is challenged to see Old religious ideas presented in a new way, again there is Fear on the part of the Pew Persons.
Fear on the part of the Pastors prevents them from saying a lot of things from the pulpit. Members get scared, contact the Pastor’s boss.
There is Fear both ways. So learning by Pew Persons is stifled. Pastoral messages stay away from encouraging the reading of the Bible in new ways. To meet the challenges of life with new views.
I have even seen members get upset with SS Lesson time. The class Teacher not go through the lesson page by page, but bring up Questions about the Material not in the Quarterly. Members become irritated.
It isnt always easy to be involved in many SDA local church groups because of the conditioning of the members over the years.

(SurprisedByGrace) #10

Seems there is a remedy for fear stated in Scripture. Something to the effect that “perfect love cast out fear” and if “anyone fears he is not perfect in love.” Fear does drive a lot of what we do and how we think in the Church. SDA DNA contains a large dosage of fear genes. We fear the Pope, we fear the Jesuits, we fear those newer translations, we fear we missed an un-confessed sin so God has closed the door of probation on me, we fear that if someone sees the same text in a different way that they are don’t have an earnest desire, nor correct means to understand God’s Word, but most of all we fear of letting fully go of ourselves into the control of God. Jesus’ words He often spoke to His followers was “fear not” and “slow of heart to believe.” We are called to follow Jesus’ example, and where do we see fear controlling Him? He promises that by coming to Him we find rest and by learning of Him we reinforce rest.

I would say to this interesting article that “courting controversy” has to be carefully entered into, purposes carefully examined as to why one would want to thrust into controversy, etc. I am no stranger, nor am I shy, of saying things that may provoke a bit, but I try to make sure I have a solid purpose with a clear resolution to conclude with. But as a public speaker and a pastor I have said things that I didn’t even mean to be controversial and they became controversial for some who would take be behind the wood shed and let me know it and hopefully make sure I never do it again.

We are all on a journey toward being more like Jesus and we are all at different points along that spectrum toward completion in Him. It’s imperative we move with God at His speed in His Spirit because that in itself will stir controversy whether one planned to enter into it or not. But let us shun going into controversy or sparking it for the sake of waking up the sleeping sheep or stirring the Laodician pot.

Spiritual intelligence is being in touch with ones own ignorance. It is safe in God to not know it all and ourselves being susceptible to error and utter stupidity. We have to be careful not to make our fear everyone’s fear.

(Andreas Bochmann) #11

Remember the old parable of the new wine in old skins?

Anyway … overall the picture you draw is quite frightening - and quite foreign to me. I know churches and whole regions your description could be applied to - but it’s by far not universal.

However, maybe, just maybe we are trying to accomplish the impossible filling new wine into old goat skins, that is. By the way - I am just realizing this parable/saying of Jesus is one of the few reported in all the synoptic gospels… not the Adventist one - for obvious reasons :wink: … but nonetheless…

(Andreas Bochmann) #12

Do you indeed? I don’t. (And if I read you correctly, you don’t)

Of course I hear what you are saying. Nevertheless, from a constructivist position (oh dear, perhaps that’s something to be feared too), we create our own reality by constantly suggesting how fearful Adventism is. I am just wondering what would happen if we imagined our church to be outgoing, assured in Christ’s salvation, ready to take on a healthy controversy.

Perhaps it would be less self-centered and more mission oriented (careful - I am talking about Christ’s mission here, not the mission of telling the world, how marvelous and right my understanding of doctrine is). THAT then could raise controversies worth having - without fear. Because you are absolutely right (and doctrinally pure) when you quote John saying “perfect love casts out fear.”

(SurprisedByGrace) #13

You read me correctly, Andreas. I love your proposal here. I have been moving away from sign setting and all of the interest in what the Pope is or is not doing. I want to be moved by love in Christ toward the purpose of reaching out to a lost world. This in no way discounts our prophetic understanding of last day events, but I don’t think events should be the primary mover of God’s people.


"Conditioning of the members"
Right on!

This is why there needs to be surveys. AND those who supervise need to check them out. The members don’t read/glance at their lesson so some go on tangents when the SS class is in process and sabotage the class with trivial digression. There is some SDA person high up who teaches SS class and allows no one who doesn’t read the lesson to ask questions in class. He came to the church I attend and presented a seminar.

I think this is an issue related to Jen Scott…I listened to an online sermon of hers and noticed the fairly competent exposition of scriptures and thought…of the verse

2 Timothy 4:3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;

Most SDA sermons have little bible…and mostly commentary, illustrations, stories, testimonies.
The flip side is to be too theological and not have the sermon/teaching contain contemporary relevance and have input on practical application instead of institutional interest. If there is practical application, it is so cliché/shallow…like share the 3 angel’s message and share Jesus with all you come in contact with.
Most sermons are subtle chew out sessions or sensational eschatology paranoia exercises