Editorial: Will The Real Adventist Please Stand Up?

I have struggled with the fruitless question of who is a real Adventist more often than I would like to admit. Mostly the question haunts the edges of my consciousness, only occasionally forming itself into words.

The ideal Adventist is (make your choices), in agreement with all 28 Fundamental Beliefs, ready to seek present truth, conservative, liberal, legalistic, grace-centered, rich, poor, smart, ignorant, short, tall, straight, gay, male, female, etc…. All of which insinuate that a true Adventist can be broken down into a single ideal prototype. That is not the case.

A real Adventist is any individual who chooses to connect with a local Adventist community. Period.

It is imperative that we define ourselves through belonging rather than by behaving or believing.1 I have heard influential Adventist leaders state bluntly that those who hold errant beliefs and eschew other vital beliefs should leave. I have read about Adventist churches that resisted outreach because it might bring imperfect sinners who would disrupt the otherwise sterile purity of their desolate church. Instead, I long for an Adventist church which recognizes that the strength of unity in diversity includes but goes much deeper than the amount of melanin in our skin.2

But, you say with furrowed brow, Jesus prayed that we would be one.3 Yes, he prayed for unity but not manipulative coercion to conform to some prototypical, imaginary, ideal person. Never unity by force.

The issue is illustrated in a comparison of Babel and Pentecost. The tower of Babel was built through unified human effort that had no room for diversity. Minority voices were an unnecessary distraction to the ultimate goal of creating a grand edifice to save humanity. As soon as diversity was introduced, the whole project failed.4

Some contend that Pentecost is a reversal of the loss of unity at Babel. However, Miroslav Volf points out that this interpretation does justice to neither story.5 Pentecost occurred in a humble prayer meeting as men and women struggled together to understand God. The result was not a conformed community that spoke with one homogeneous voice, but a transformed community who spoke and related to every tongue, tribe, and nation, causing diverse passersby to exclaim, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?"6 Notice, the foreigners didn’t suddenly conform to speak Galilean. The Galileans were transformed to relate to others in their native context.

John records Jesus' prayer that we would be unified in the same way He was unified with His Father. Unified in love.7

Of course, love is not license. There may be times when we should do as Paul says and expel the immoral member. 8 When the actions of one are to disrupt the community, their choice is clear. The cancer of arrogance whether in flaunting errant ideas, unrepentant debauchery, icy legalism, or divisively narrow theological understanding should be carefully excised. This painful process may go both ways and involve removing oneself from a toxic community or letting go of a member disrupting the community.

The problem with cancerous cells is that they have lost all connection to the wider body they inhabit. They begin to grow without regard to signals from the other diverse cellular components of the body. They express their own cellular material at unhealthy levels and ignore feedback from other cells in the body. They metastasize as a homogeneous mass into areas where they are not fit to function. This results in destruction of the natural cellular diversity. Eventually they kill their host and themselves in the process.

Despite, or perhaps as a result of the powerful technology and overwhelming wealth of information available to us in the 21st Century, we are becoming increasingly disconnected from those who are different from us. Oh we have connections; but, those connections are all too often to those who share our own perspective and opinions. The problem is, as Cass Sunstein notes, the more connected we are to those who think the way we do the more ingrained and extreme our views become.9 We need one another and we need to be exposed to differences within and beyond our Adventist enclaves.

The body of Christ functions best as Paul described it. Christ is the head and we are a diverse group of individual parts performing our unique functions in a coordinated, communicating miracle of life.10

In short, there is no more a single ideal Adventist than there is a single ideal cell. So, will the real Adventist please sit back down and connect with the diverse community?

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  1. Richard Rice's book Believing, Behaving, Belonging is a brilliant and persuasive call for the primacy of belonging.
  2. I am in no way attempting to minimize the need for unity among racial diversity. I realize we have a great deal of growth ahead of us in this area as well. What I am attempting to highlight is the fact that issues of diversity are much more diverse than skin pigment. Think of the rich diversity along the spectrum of traditional to progressive Adventists. Assuming we have achieved unity in diversity because we have a racially diverse church like the one I currently attend ignores the rich depths of experience awaiting us as we dialogue with many different cultures, traditions, backgrounds, perspectives, orientations, and ideas.
  3. John 17:20-22
  4. Genesis 11:1-9
  5. Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace
  6. Acts 2:1-9 (NRSV)
  7. John 17:23
  8. I Corinthians 5
  9. Cass Sunstein, Wiser: Getting Beyond Groupthink to Make Groups Smarter
  10. I Corinthians 12...

Brenton Reading is a board member of Adventist Forum, the parent organization of Spectrum Magazine.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6860

Opened the website on a whim just now, and got to read your very generous words, Brenton. The cancer metaphor is doubtless like all others: not literally applicable in every conceivable sense. But I think it is jarring in the best sense. And I agree that the key issue is participation–one hopes, collegial and self-giving parrticipation–in a local Adventist congregation.

Such participation enables persons of differing theological stripe to love one another–sharing potlucks and hymns, prayers and board meetings, group study, ministry and witness.

More and more, we need to uphold congregations and pastors and the members who come together as congregations. Thanks for this.

Chuck

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I appreciate the thoughtful response Chuck. Participation in a local community and loving one another is often more challenging than it might seem and less glamorous than it sounds. I need encouragement toward that end just as I am sure many others do. I like the way you put it, “uphold congregations and pastors and the members who come together as congregations.”

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Thank you for this wonderful treatment of something I find very important. I agree that there is not one definition of who is an Adventist, and I believe any effort to do so is the sin of judgmentalism. It is not appropriate for anyone to investigate the private sins of other church members or who define some sins are worse than others. Sadly, I’ve encountered people on this blog who have made it clear that people who don’t agree with them should leave the church which I believe is a tragic wrong.

I’m what many would call a liberal Adventist. But I am an Adventist and I’m blessed to belong to a community of faith where I’m welcomed and appreciated.

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Just last night at church board meeting, our pastor passed around the room a pictorial directory. Notice, he said, that there is no mention of membership. These are simply the people who choose to worship with us on a regular basis.

Choosing to be part of a community is increasingly significant. These days when our digital devices select everything for us, it is good to choose to be part of something larger than one’s self. To associate with people from all different parts of society, old, young, educated, or not, brothers and sisters all in the family of God.

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What is a real lawyer? Someone who hangs out in law offices? How about a real policeman? Same thing? Fireman? CIA Operative?
There are many descriptions in the bible of active “members”. Elder, Deacon, Disciple, Why have those distinctions if all you have to do is hang out with them?

Lawyers, police officers, etc. all have a high bar to cross before they are included in their respective professions because their jobs demand a certain level of knowledge, skill, and competence. We can’t all be Lawyers. Nor, should we be.

On the other hand, all are invited to be a part of the ‘kin-dom’ of God.

Some in the community may have defined roles that warrant a title. I have no problem with that as long as everyone has equal opportunity to serve in those roles.

But, you do make a good point. There must be something we hold in common to be a community. What would you say that is?

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Very thoughtful, Brenton … and generous as Chuck noted … and in keeping with John 13, where Jesus describes the obvious … in such a way that neither language or culture can disguise … who are His disciples.

Having grown up with the assertion that Seventh-day Adventists are all about having differentiated truth at the highest purity levels in human history, and having been exposed to undifferentiated cancer diagnosis with a loved one, I take great heart in Jesus assertion that love is best when least differentiated, and most like His own.

Churches are about differentiating … name, creed, practice, dress, gender, diet, circumcision, … often among Christian expressions bolstering themselves by linking deliberately differentiated belief to human salvation.

The closer we can sense the Creator of the World actually redeeming and saving His World in total, the more embraceable we will sense one another in the pew and on the street it seems.

And in San Antonio next month.

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The church that I loved most was also one that put out a directory of all who attended; membership was not important. If someone wished to attend, he was always welcomed and often asked to participate regardless of membership.

The church never participated in any of the evangelistic meetings that came to town and yet it grew, and is still growing rapidly.

Is it more important to be Adventist than Christian? Why is the first always emphasized and the latter, so seldom? Sadly, they are not synonymous.

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Nice, Elaine. Your probing the relationship between ‘Adventist’ and 'Christian got me thinking … I am always uncomfortable hearing the term, Seventh-day Adventist Christian. So I toyed with the term, Christian Seventh-day Adventist.

Yes. I smiled too.

No matter how the arrangement, the sound is dissonant. The later derogates the church community, while the former derogates the wider Christian community.

I prefer Seventh-day Adventist, by itself. As I would if I had come to understand Christianity as a Catholic, or a Methodist, or an Assembly of God, or an Amish.

I especially appreciate your experience with the congregation that embraced without checking one’s bona fides. Apparently ever.

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God didn’t just create Adam and Eve and then clone them. He gives each of us unique fingerprints and dna, and while there may be some look-alikes in the world, you can usually tell some difference between them. God loves the difference - no two snowflakes are alike. Variety is the trademark of God’s creation. Our different personalities and viewpoints can be enriching to each other, so why insist we all must be alike?

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The greatest problem in asking – Will the REAL Adventists Please Stand Up? – is that everyone who is on the Journey – and it IS a Journey — to the Kingdom is at different spots along the way, and at different spots in reading the Sign Posts directing them toward Kingdom Maturity.
IS a REAL Seventh day Adventist someone who is one with doing just outward rituals?
IS a REAL Seventh day Adventist someone who is having inner life-style changes? Changes in Character, changes in Attitudes, changes in Relationships with their Creator and their Creator’s Creation – their fellow Humans?
Most of the time, sometime it seems like ALL THE TIME, we want to judge WHO is a Real SDA by just observing the Outward Rituals we see.
It is OK with me to see someone coming to church with a little jewelry, a little lipstick and eye shadow, perhaps engaging in eating a hamburger and fried chicken once in a while, who is developing those Inner Graces of the Spirit. A person who is actively developing a Relationship with God. This person is the TRUE Seventh day Adventist on the TRUE Journey.
Externals can be given up, can be exchanged for something else.
Perhaps I am NOT REALLY an SDA. I believe in an ALL WELCOMING congregation. An ALL PARTICIPATING congregation. I believe that a Relationship with God develops over a life-time, not stops at the moment of a miraculous Baptism. But that is only the beginning of the experience, of learning by the Spirit.
Will I ever give up being a “Seventh day Adventist”? No.
Will I enjoy participating in the fellowship of other “Christians”? Yes. Like Paul, I will enjoy fellowship with other Christians who “had only the Baptism of John” and were unaware of any other Baptism.
And I will enjoy my friendships with those whose God is Jewish, and friendship with those who only know their Higher Power.
Being a Seventh day Adventist allows me to embrace ALL of these as Family and enjoy these as Family.

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I appreciate Spectrum and is parent body–Adventist Forums. they were established to give voice to diversity as well as to share advancing insights in theology and human affairs.,

I matured in Adventism at a time of great travail. I was given leadership responsibilities within the body. I found that I could neither in good faith support the prevailing views, nor could I merely sit on
A back pew and be quiet. So I resigned my positions and asked that my name be removed from the local church books.

As my posting indicate, my entire being is to see that the Church abandon its Cultic tendencies and really join the community of Christian believers.

the bottom-line is The worship of a Creator/Redeemer/Returning King of Kings–Who has adopted us as His children on the basis of our confidence in His Power, Accomplishments on our behalf and His enduring Grace.

Cultural differences have no bearing on our confidence in His Redeeming Love and mercy.

present Truth is simply Christ is Lord. Tom Z

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I have yet to find one Seventh-day Adventist congregation, especially here in southern Cal - not one - that does not welcome diversity. Truth of the matter is my transfer to the first church I attended was voted without my applying for membership. My wife and I were actively engaged with fellowship and witness in the same church for several years until we moved to another place and to a new SdA community. Same story. I may be wrong but my sense is it’s good for their statistics. Needless to say, though I always felt welcomed and accepted, despite my peculiar theological orientation, a semblance of unity with all the brothers and sisters is always expected of everyone joining and staying with the various groups that constituted the entire community of SdA’s.

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It is no surprise that most Californians, especially in the Southern areas welcome diversity. But from comments elsewhere on this forum, it is quite different in many parts to the east of us in the U.S. It has been many years since I attended church in the South but the churches there were much more rigid; those from that area should inform us of the situation today.

When I could no longer feel proud or honor my own integrity by claiming to be a Seventh-day Adventist, I asked to be removed from membership.

There are still some today who, when asked, believe that only Protestants or Christians. Adventists, according to their FBs, are neither fish nor fowl: Borrowing concepts from both Judaism and Christianity and unique interpretations, the church has determined its own specific beliefs; many today are of little significance to many.

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Really? That’s painting with a pretty broad (and highly inaccurate) brush. It allows for the kind of plurality which is agreeable to those who don’t like standards. But I don’t believe Jesus would agree with that definition. He did not espouse such a “big tent” philosophy. In fact, He said that not everyone who connects with Him or His followers will be found in His kingdom. He goes further by saying that even many who have allegedly (in their minds, at least) have worked for Him, will be left out. Matt. 7:21-23.

Here we go again, pulling out the wheat and the tares!
(Unless, of course, you are one of the reaping angels. Then my apologies for defamation of character.)

Trust The Process.

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the other evangelical churches grow fast because they don’t push you to be a member of the congregation, instead they welcome you and they want you worshiping on a regular base and also being part of the community, that’s one of the keys for growing, our methods are totally outdated regarding growing and evangelism.

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Brenton
The interesting feel I get upon reading these 18 responses is that there are not only problems with having the REAL Seventh day Adventist PERSON stand up.
There is a problem with having the REAL Seventh day Adventist Local Church stand up.
There appears to be a great diversity of people,
There appears to be a great diversity in Local Church groups regarding of Who will be allowed in, Who will be encouraged to go elsewhere.
This diversity also seems to occur, at least here in the US depending on if North, South, East, West with those variant cultural attitudes about acceptance or non-acceptance of strange-to-me-people in general. And this infiltrates the church membership and the pastoral team.

You asked a Great Question. And it allows for the ability to explore the question – Why and WHAT makes the SDA church a great place for some, but for others makes it feel and actually become so divisive for others in their experience as an SDA.

Your Question also allows for the exploration of Why we shy away from certain types of Evangelism opportunities. 1. Having a booth at various types of Community celebrations.
2. In Atlanta in October there is the opportunity to meet 100,000 people with a booth. The local churches and the Ga-Cumb Conference are unwilling to speak the Name Seventh-day Adventist there. I have approached them and asked them myself by letter.
3. I am sure the same is true about Community celebrations in all 50 states.

mem·ber
ˈmembər/Submit
noun
1.
an individual, thing, or organization belonging to a group.
“a member of the drama club"
synonyms: subscriber, associate, affiliate, life member, card-carrying member
"a member of the club”

believe
verb be·lieve \bə-ˈlēv
: to accept or regard (something) as true

: to accept the truth of what is said by (someone)

: to have (a specified opinion)

And here we see what I believe is a fundamental problem with the current definition of Christian.


Full Definition of CHRISTIAN

1
a : one who professes belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ

The definition completely separates ones profession from ones actions.
Is it really worth calling yourself a christian if all you have to do to be one is say you are one?
How then is that different than calling ones self an Adventist?

Also Does just saying you are “salt” and “A light to the world” actually make you one? What about Christs obvious distinction of wheat and tares? The context is the church body.
What about Matthew 7:21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.

22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?

23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

24 Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:

25 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.

26 And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand:

27 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.

28 And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine:"

I dont know about you but I dont personally know any prophets or people who have successfully cast out demons but even they with their gifts are documented to not make it in the end.

So in the final analysis I guess it depends on if you are characterizing the group by its advertising and packaging or by its contents. Therefore I resist an attitude describing a name, label or classification (Adventist) which represents a certain and specific set of principals as, anyone who says they are one.
I suggest you establish the definition of Adventist first and then you will have the largest part of your answer. Asking who is a real Adventist without that is disingenuous. Further, If your position is correct then why even have baptismal vows?

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