Editorial: The Adventist Cleaners

(Spectrumbot) #1

Several weeks ago my wife and I attended The One Project (T1P) event, in San Diego. It was my first time and, among other things, it was an opportunity to gain a first-hand opinion. I am aware, being on the Spectrum web team, that there is controversy about T1P in some people’s minds. But I hadn’t done any sort of deep dive into the various complaints. I also got the assignment to report on Day 2 for the website, which interested readers can find here. I personally found the conference experience to be very positive. The speakers had obviously done considerable thinking about their assigned topics and the results were evident. I don’t like to casually throw around religious jargon, but in this case it is fair to say that I was personally blessed by the experience.

As for controversial teachings – I found nothing that qualified. This was not at all surprising to me, but I was paying close attention, since their organization has been continually criticized by various Adventists who think T1P is bringing heresy into the church through the back door. I thought about using part of the Spectrum article I wrote to speak to this controversy but decided better of it. What was needed, I concluded, was simply accurate information. So I dedicated the whole article to giving as much detail about what actually took place on Day 2 as space allowed.

Now, Spectrum permits comments to follow the web articles and I wondered whether any critics would weigh in. There was virtually nothing in my report that hinted at controversy, since there was nothing controversial that I saw taking place. But sure enough, the third commenter under my article had a concern. This individual had obtained T1P’s Facilitator Guide – a booklet used by the discussion coordinators at each table. The concern was not about the text of the guide, it was about the bibliography. To begin with, only one of the 10 resources listed was written by an Adventist. And the commenter chased down some of the resources on the internet, found some sentences from those resources that seemed questionable, pasted them into the comment, and asked: “Anyone else concerned about this list of books being promoted at by The One Project and considered as resources for how to conduct a Recalibration?”

I am not making this stuff up. I’m not that creative. The concerned individual didn’t speak to the content of the conference – what the 1000+ attendees actually heard. The concern wasn’t about the content of the Facilitator’s Guide – what we presume the table moderators read in preparing for their task. It was about the fact that most of the resources in the bibliography weren’t SDA. And some paragraphs were then lifted from some of these authors – who knows what the broader context was – and an open, free-floating question of suspicion was raised. This is a real stretch, folks. You gotta work hard to complain about material this far removed from the actual content of the conference. I would not be surprised if similar presumed heterodoxy could be mined from the syllabi of most seminary courses, with enough effort and dedication.

Now, at this point, let me pause and lay a baseline for what I wish to consider in this essay.

First, any organization has, and needs to have, boundaries. Adventism is no different. Thus it is obviously legitimate for every member of a group to take interest in what the limits and flexibility of those boundaries are and ought to be. Investigation of whether individuals or ideas have strayed beyond appropriate group boundaries is not categorically illegitimate. Far from it. And the investigations by “concerned” individuals are generally portrayed in this light. The question I have is whether something else, something beyond, is also going on in some of the criticism that seems almost native to the Adventist subculture.

Second, this example of a web comment is somewhat extreme and it would be inappropriate to extrapolate from it too far. Of course, it also is not an isolated criticism. But it is reminiscent of a mindset – one I have seen for years in Adventism and, unfortunately for me, I’m getting to be a fairly old guy. It is fear that Adventism is being corrupted from within by something Satanic, conspiratorial and growing. Fear that a majority of church members are too naïve or inattentive to see all this, and those who want a “clean church” are therefore “sounding the trumpet on the walls of Zion”.

So this “cleaning” metaphor I use in my title is in some ways legitimate and some dialog that the church engages in – under this general heading – is constructive. But not all, I contend. And it is the less savory aspects of our penchant for cleaning I wish to consider here.

The explicit targets for some of the “cleaner mentality” change over the years, but the thought process often has a depressing consistency. Here are some aspects that I have perceived. These hypotheses concerning purpose are, of course, awfully difficult to prove conclusively and I have no such goal. I simply wish to “lift the rocks” and ask whether our motives might be more mixed than we admit.

1. Propositional truth and protecting ourselves. Adventists have always been big on abstract, propositional Biblical truth. The church pioneers would try to debate ministers from other denominations on doctrinal points, trying to convince the public that our position was right. This cultural mindset would understandably attract people who are gratified to belong to an organization that is right. Fine. But the satisfaction of being right has a potentially undesirable side. It can be a protection to evade the Holy Spirit getting too close and convicting us of the need for personal spiritual overhaul. If being right is the bottom line spiritual reconstruction is no longer central – or even necessary. You’re in the Right Club with no painful self-examination required. This has its attraction. Add to this the warnings raised by Ellen White about Spiritualism and you have a subculture that is often quite adverse to emotion in their religion. Then, if you: a) over-emphasize emotion-aversion because you are ostensibly avoiding the dangers of Spiritualism; and b) emphasize doctrine abstracted from how it plays out in the lives of messy, flawed people – you can be zealous in your cleaning for quite problematic and unrecognized reasons.

2. Works and the Moral High Ground. Christianity teaches us that we are all sinners, lost without God’s gracious gift of salvation – obtained by faith, not works. This assessment of our inherent condition also syncs, I’d suggest, with what we recognize about ourselves, if we’re honest. We are flawed. We screw up. “Man”, said Blaise Pascal, “is neither angel nor beast, and unhappily whoever wants to act the angel, acts the beast.” Obviously this recognition doesn’t make us feel good about ourselves. The Christian way out is to admit this, fall at the foot of the cross, accept the unearned righteousness offered, and never again fail to realize what our natural condition is and where our righteousness comes from. But there is a shortcut. That is to do things that appear to be “good works” and legitimately realize their goodness – thus our self-esteem is raised. But then illegitimately cover ourselves with these works as if they have efficacy in themselves. We all know this doctrine. But in my life experience there are myriad ways we engage in self-deception in this arena. It seems to be human nature to try and “fall off the wagon” of grace. And one of the works that can produce this substitute feel-good result – is to be a God Defender, a Cleaner. We then cloak our actions in moral superiority – fighting the good fight against those in our midst who are not only mistaken, but actually the enemy. Cleaning feels good and it appears to be the Moral High Ground. But this sort of good feeling – if driven via the scenario I’m describing here – is deceptive legalism. So there is a real risk that the good work of everyone asking the legitimate questions about organizational boundaries can morph into a self-serving, ego-propping, works-grounded religious exercise.

What I hope to do in this essay is not engage in an even more subtle cleaning exercise – cleaning out the cleaners. Elevating myself, by virtue of this analysis, to an even higher Moral High Ground. I would hope what I am trying to do instead is catalyze individual reflection on our multiple, and perhaps entangled, motives. Self-deception can be inordinately subtle. We can tell ourselves we are doing right and wind up doing harm. We can also subtly insulate ourselves from God – boxing Him into an abstract version of “truth” to forestall painful but needed change in our lives.

The church is often compared to a body – per 1 Corinthians 12. Bodies are alive and can be harmed. Bodies also need cleanliness but not at the risk of injury. My Adventist experience has too many examples where I have seen people wounded by others who believe they are cleaning. But they treated the body of Christ as something abstract, isolated from context and not populated with fragile people with complicated motivations. And if we treat the body as if it were dead it is no longer cleaning – it is embalming.

Rich Hannon is the Spectrum website Columns Editor and a member of the Adventist Forum board.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6668

(Elaine Nelson) #2

While I find there are a few who strongly believe that Adventists should not read anything that is not published by the Adventists church, such comments have been fueled by the G.C. President’s remarks soon after taking office. He warned against having non-SdA speakers and reading non-SdA books.

While he has no authority to dictate what books are read nor what sources that many may find as very worthy, could it be that there are a few who now believe that they have official backing by the church president to endorse his advice?

(Bille) #3

(Unfortunately I have used up my quota of “likes” for the day… so I shall have to bestow other ways of giving positive recognition of this right at the beginning.)

Thank you, Rich Hannon for an excellent thought provoking essay!

:+1: :+1: :+1:

:heart: :heartpulse: :heartbeat:

(Thomas J Zwemer) #4

one of the best essay I have read on this site. Thank you. Tom Z

(Steve Mga) #5

Seventh day Adventists when first begun were constrained regarding Biblical Truth by the Bible itself.
And the ONLY Bible they had was the 1611 Authorized King James Version. And were confined in
their study, like being in a Pen with a fence about it, by whatever the 1611 scholars THOUGHT the
original texts said, based upon what “original texts” they had available in England, about 200 years earlier.
At about 1870, this is 25 years after the development of the original group, James provided a very
short list of beliefs “that were generally held” by the believers, or “members” of the group at that
time. Apparently SOME DID and SOME DID NOT believe all of these.
And yet, they were still considered good Adventists, and in good and regular standing.
If James White were to come alive today, would he still have the same statement about the “28” and possibly growing, “that were generally held”. Would he still admonish our GC Leaders down to the Local Church Members that Some Do and Some Do Not believe all “28”, but it is OK as long as the Members continue to be open to more Truth?
Again, The 28 are much more of a list than what James listed.
Since the days of James and Ellen we have new ways of reading “The Bible”. Actually in her day she DID begin to read one of the earliest NEW English Translations, and did quote from it in her later writings.
Ellen herself enjoyed the reading of “Non-Seventh day Adventist” books. And received Spiritual benefit from them.
With better Manuscripts, better understanding of Hebrew and Greek culture to give additional light on how words were used with multiple senses [much like some of our English idioms – Hot!, Gay, Top Hat, etc] there has been encouragement by New and Old Testament scholars to write their impressions in books.
Many of these expound the same beliefs that we as SDAs subscribe to. Many of these expand on thoughts that we as SDAs think about.
It is true that some of these do challenge one’s thinking. BUT, isnt that what seeking for Truth is supposed to do? Only by seeking to find answers to questions never before brought us by others will we be challenged in our own minds to expand and improve our conscious view and understanding of God.
We have to be careful about being a “purifyer” and a “cleaner” of “the church” — both Local Membership and Globally.
We are a Church Membership that is seeking for THE TRUTH Individually [because that is where our relationship and understanding with and about God is]. We have to be careful about intimidating and inhibiting members sitting next to us in the pew from seeking an improved relationship with God, preventing them from finding something that will assist them in their Christian Journey of Looking to Jesus, and to manifest Christ-likeness in their Characters more fully.
Those who set themselves up as Spiritual Overseers of Others can do real damage to those seeking God, those seeking Christ’s character, those trying to listen to the “still small voice” of the Holy Spirit.

(Steve Mga) #6

For your Lenten Meditation I would like to offer THIS SDA BOOK.
“The Green Cord – pursuing Ellen White’s vision of Jesus and His Church”,
by Alex Bryan, Pacific Press:2012.

It will be like Meeting Jesus Again For The First Time.

(Pagophilus) #7

Isn’t that book simply having a go at the SDA church, using Ellen White’s dream as the entering wedge?

(Elaine Nelson) #8

It is quite well known that the Bible used in forming a belief system by the Adventist founders was the KJV. None had the ability to read in Greek or Hebrew and, as you write, they were influenced by other non-scriptural interpretations, i.e. Ussher.

EGW drew this conclusion, which is still held by probably a majority of Adventists. There are many who still add up the years between progeny as listed in the genealogical listings but there is absolutely no evidence that these are totally correct. The Hebrew writers did not intend to give absolute numerical accuracy as is shown by their prolific numbering in seven, forties, and multiples of those figures.

It is ludicrous to believe that Moses’ time in Egypt, Midian, and in the wilderness was exactly 40 years; or that Jesus’ temptation was exactly 40 days; or that each time 40 is written that it was completely accurate. The Hebrews were writing to tell the story of their deliverance by God and subsequent travails. We miss the forest by looking at each tree.

(Allen Shepherd) #9

I think the “cleansing” can come from both sides. The conservatives look for support for the doctrines, while liberals look for “Christlikeness”, that is compassion. So that if one alights on a position where doctrine “trumps” compassion, at least in the mind of the beholder, then cleansing needs to occur, and such a one who has violated such a basic tenet of Christianity is really no representative of the religion at all, and needs re-indoctrination, or sensitivity training at least. And the motives of one such can be impugned mercilessly.

So, T1P has its critics, as does GYC on the other side. And the critics can each look pretty rancorous.

(k_Lutz) #10

This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ! And by far the most important point of this editorial. The balance seems to address those which to their peril proclaim some other not so good news, whether it is in ;being right’ or devising a shortcut.

God loves each and every one of us. But He can’t help us when we are not submitted consistently to Him, don’t get our selves out of His way.

Trust God.


Hello Steve, now days its not so much over the KJV as it once was, but rather, which line of NT manuscripts can be trusted. This now has become the new problem.

And btw most people wouldn’t even be able to read much of the 1611, and don’t realize what they actually have is the 1769 KJV; even though they refer to it as the 1611.

It was a long and hard road for me to get away from these people who try and convince everyone that only the KJV/NKJV line of manuscripts are trustworthy (Textus Receptus). While the Alexandrian and other texts are corrupted; where all sorts of fanciful theories enter the equation. Some, like myself, eventually escaped. Sadly, though, many don’t and not only remain there but become twice as harsh as those that taught them in rebuking all other bible translations.

I’ve actually seen videos of where people burning NIV’s.

(Richard Ludders) #12

Walter Veith is a force in our church behind this KJV only crusade.


Hello Richard. Sadly, this is true. As much as I like Walter Veith, his two part series on Bible translations and NT manuscripts is very bad. Even I, a layman, can debunk much, if not all, of what he teaches on the subject.

Gone are the days when we must rely on others :crown: to tell us what is true and what is not. We have a staggering amount of resources at our fingertips now to do our own, unbiased, research. :satellite:

This does not mean I will cease making mistakes. But they will be my mistakes, and I will hopefully, with Gods help, learn from them and move forward. :+1:

(Elaine Nelson) #14

Any religion that first requires an individual to consent that we are flawed, and screwed up is nothow Christ see us. He sees us as His worthy children. Does a parent look at her child and see her as “flawed” or does she see a child worthy of unbounded love, not condemnation? The old song lines: “such a worm” that we should first be, before coming to Christ is an abomination and blasphemes God who doesn’t make junk.

“Flawed” means not perfect, which applies to all of us, which is why LGT promises perfection.

(Frankmer7) #15

I hear you on the one hand, Elaine. But OTOH, what do you with Jesus saying to his hearers, “If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children…?” Or Paul’s catena of quotations in Romans 3, describing the human condition?

While I agree that God doesn’t make junk, and the image of “such a worm as I,” is pretty horrible, there is the idea that Jesus and later Paul get across that humanity, unaided, is in a total mess. If you don’t want to attribute that to flawed human nature, you can explain it however you want, but it’s there, nonetheless.

One won’t ask for help from Christ, until one realizes they need it. This is the picture the Bible is getting across. It also gets across the reality that God loves us in the midst of our problems, even those that may be termed intrinsic.



(Steve Mga) #16

If we read the Conservative Jewish English translation of O.T. Scripture it would be slightly different from the KJV.

(Sirje) #17

Anyone brought up as an Adventist, would have a hard time understanding basic Christian gospel theology, The SDA version, is based on Jesus, our example. You hear it all the time here from the diehards. Because Jesus did this or that, we too are bound to DO it. For the rest of Christianity, Christ is our REDEEMER. This is a big difference. SDAs don’t recognize the classical “original sin” that was thrust upon mankind when Adam sinned. This is why parents baptize babies, to ensure their redemption through that baptism before the age of accountability (followed by “confirmation” - of that baptism). Catholics do it and Lutherans do it. SDAs etc. rely on each person accepting the church’s teachings at some age, and baptism becomes an initiation ceremony instead.

I know you know all that. Your objection to people acknowledging being “flawed” comes out of your SDA background, I think (I could be terribly wrong). I say that because the basis of Christianity is that Christ became the second Adam (in his innocence) and paid for the sin of the first Adam, which is the “original” sin which we have inherited - basically a do-over. In that sense, we are all “flawed” until we’re not, after accepting Christ’s death and resurrection as our own; and renewed at each communion ceremony.

Adventist have a hard time with this because we can’t accept that we become pure through Christ. We must work hard until we die to comply with all the commandments etc. in order to stand before God in the judgment, without the “redeeming blood” of Christ, our intercessor. And, you know the rest, some fraction of the SDA church has to be keeping the commandments perfectly (last generation perfection) before Jesus can return.

Paul deals with those flaws in Romans 7 - a portion of Romans SDAs try to explain as having been Paul’s condition and experience before his conversion. Here Paul struggles with this flawed nature penetrating his life despite his acceptance of Christ. In the SDA mind that can’t happen - Paul, of all people couldn’t have been having a struggle with sin. The problem is, if this happened before he met Christ, he wouldn’t have been having this struggle to begin with.

Nobody is saying we have to go around, head down, and forever aware of our being filled with sin (being flawed). But you must admit, this world sure is filled with “flawed” activity.

(Joselito Coo) #18

T1P has its critics, as does GYC on the other side. And the critics can each look pretty rancorous.

I’m neither for nor against one (GYC) or the other (T1P) though I can see they are targeting the same age group of young Seventh-day Adventists. Incidentally, many of the young people and their parents who fellowship in the ethnic churches around Loma Linda are strong supporters of GYC. Proof of this phenomenon is the fact that as recently as this past week-end, as well as previously, multiple presentations by GYC representatives have been hosted by the church where my family worships. I’ve not attended any of their large gatherings, however. Neither the GYC’s nor the T1P’s.

That said, perusing T1P’s website, I noted a couple things that aroused my curiosity. Concern! :flushed: . Regarding their bylaws in particular, here:



“… the One project operates as a ministry of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and as such is formally a denominationally supported activity.”

Sec. 1. The Board of Directors of the One project Board shall consist of:
a. Its CoFounders (Alex Bryan, Japhet De Oliveira, Timothy Gillespie, Sam Leonor and Terry Swenson) [plus elected board members]

Sec. 2… The Co-Chief Executive Officers (Alex Bryan and Japhet De Oliveira) shall act as the Co-Chairs of the Board until such time as they choose to relinquish this position. [snip]


  1. Is this a supporting/independent ministry?
    […] We deeply value the blessing and support from the General Conference, Divisions, Unions, Conferences and Missions. So, in short, we are not a supporting/independent ministry.

(Steve Mga) #19

Perhaps this means that they work closely with and are monitored by the GC and all the identified smaller groups. And perhaps they receive Grants toward the costs of the “conferences”.
The first statement indicates that they have the Seal Of Approval at least from the N.American Division.

Alex has written a good book. The Green Cord.

(Allen Shepherd) #20


I don’t think you have the foundational SDA teachings quite right. And EGW really supports the idea of salvation through Jesus and that we cannot attain righteousness any other way. Salvation by grace through faith, not of yourselves.

You seem to think that all SDA’s agree with the LGT folk. I am sympathetic, but I don’t believe it is a doctrine that is foundational.

Do you believe in perfection? Can we actually be perfect in Christ? Kevin says we can cease sinning. Do you think it is impossible?

I think Paul’s words in Philippians 3 are most helpful here. He has relinquished all so that he might have the righteousness of Christ (vs 7-11). It seems he would thus be perfect. But then in vs 12-14, he says he has not already attained perfection, but is pressing on toward the mark.

My understanding is that that is how Adventists believe this issue to be. Perfect in Christ, but still pressing on. What do you think? Hebrews 10:14 seems to teach a similar doctrine.