General Conference Reflections: The Realities We’re Forgetting

I’ve been distracted lately. From some really important realizations.With all the many tweets and articles that came out of San Antonio, with all the reports of the quarrels about voting procedures and mechanisms, qualified leaders and rules of order, better wordings and loaded phrases, and with the discouraged reactions on one side and the ecstatic praises on the other, I’m afraid I’ve been angry and have forgotten five pivotal realities.

Reality #1: We exist in a vast profusion of cultures. Our worldwide church fully represents this extensive diversity. There’s nothing we can do about it, short of creating thousands of independent, domestic groupings, and even then we’d still be divided locally.

It shouldn’t surprise us that within these cultures we hold hugely different opinions and perspectives that have been forcefully shaped by the societies in which we live. Nor should we be surprised that we all consider our frames of reference to be more valid and authoritative than anyone else’s viewpoint. Our cultures influence the clothes we wear, the food we eat, the understandings we have for specific words, the “necessities” with which we surround ourselves, the music we prefer, the side of the road we drive on, and certainly our theological and political postures.

Some of our cultures are hierarchical and authoritarian. Other cultures place a higher value on individualism and democratic equality (even in the way we cast votes). Some cultures prefer an unbroken attachment to their historical heritage (witness the recent U.S. discussion about the Confederate flag). Other segments esteem creativity, innovation, and change. If we live within a culture that speaks definitively of knowing God’s will for all, we will approach people differently than if we live in a more secular society (contrast the differences in Islamic countries and in modern-day Europe). It’s not a matter of one culture being correct and all others being wrong. Diversity is simply a matter of reality.

We always will take differing stances. To expect it to be otherwise, or to be bewildered by the resulting outcomes in an international, male dominated forum, virtually deprived of youthful voices and insights, is to reveal a woeful disconnect with the realities of the world in which we live.

Reality #2: We all interpret. The days of priestly officials dictating the scope, meaning, and purpose of someone else’s words have receded into obscurity as surely as the hand copied Latin Bibles that once were chained to medieval pulpits.

Our scriptures now exist in thousands of versions and paraphrases with the precise purpose of helping us understand those passages in words we comprehend. And even when we’re speaking the same language, our understanding is interpreted through our own experience and culture (consider the hundreds of hours spent on the theology of ordination by competent scholars, sincere theologians, and committed Bible students, only to come to widely differing conclusions, along with the discerning awareness that the issue is cultural, not theological).

Interpretation is a fact of life. We interpret when we choose “better” English words with which to express our fundamental beliefs for all languages and dialects. I may prefer “global” to “worldwide,” or “human” to “man.” You may prefer yet another expression, or feel that less inclusive language is more historical. We interpret what Jesus meant when He gave us an evangelistic commission. We probably differ on how much “good news” is necessary for evangelism actually to qualify as gospel evangelism. My health routine may include items you consider peripheral or even unnecessary. We interpret the original messages of great works of art when we view them in museums. A pianist interprets a 200 year-old piece of music for a performance.

We don’t have the original sources of the Bible, nor do we have irrevocable cliff notes written by the authors explaining what they meant. We interpret. It’s a reality.

Reality #3: We are selective. We tend to pick and choose, sort and settle, nominate and elect only those things and people we find to be of the same mind. It doesn’t bode well for inclusivity, but that’s the way we usually operate.

Our sermons broadcast our reliance on selected authorities. Our bibliographies reveal our biases. We quote texts that agree with us and disregard passages that present different perspectives. Ignoring Paul’s counsel to clothe ourselves with “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:12), and Peter’s guidance to “show proper respect to everyone” (1 Peter 2:17), we applaud pronouncements with which we agree, as if the one speaking were repeating universally held absolute truths, and we hiss and boo even well-respected leaders who rise to support a contrasting perspective.

We prefer to call this reality “discernment” when we’re the ones doing the selecting, but we call others “critical” and “judgmental” when they contradict us in exercising the same dynamic. We pretend to know people’s intentions when we assign to them the worst of motivations, often declaring that those others are moved by beastly powers or anti-Christ designs. We often favor sensational conspiracy theories from the Internet or the hallways, to well grounded, deeply researched, rational explanations.

It’s not likely that we all will turn a corner on such unfortunate partialities at the same time, but shouldn’t we at least respectfully question presuppositions, clarify sources, and dispute conclusions that arise from trite stereotypes and overdone clichés?

Reality #4: We are woefully inconsistent. We don’t always come across as well reasoned or balanced. Even with as many as 28 applications of our faith on the table one should be able to expect a high degree of evenly expressed narration and consistent commentary.

But not so! We prefer to use the words “unity” and “uniformity” only when the “right” word better elucidates the point we want to make. We vote to expunge certain phrases from our doctrine about Ellen White lest anyone accuse us of forming our beliefs from extra-biblical sources, but then we announce from the pulpit that our belief in a recent, 6,000 year-old creation is based on what Ellen White says. We point out the Bible’s recommended capital punishment for people of different sexual identity, but forget to mention that the same penalty is commanded for Sabbath breakers (Numbers 15:32-36) and disobedient children (Deuteronomy 21:18-21).

What would have happened in San Antonio if all those delegates who signed a pledge to stay Christ-like in all their deliberations and responses had been expelled from the session when they acted otherwise? What if acting Christ-like was more important to us than exact doctrinal wordings and exclusive referendums? What if we called for prayer when we sincerely felt the need for guidance from the Holy Spirit instead of using it as an opportunity to preach our position without interruption, or as continued propaganda for our point of view, or as a pacifier to calm pent-up emotions?

What would happen if instead of being discouraged by what my friend Chris Blake calls “narrow interpretations and cultural proclivities,” we just determined to be more diligent in “the opening of the heart to God as a friend” (Steps to Christ, 93) without expectations or demands, to become more Christ-like, more respectful, and more active in proclaiming the gospel of our salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone?

Reality #5: The end is near. It’s beyond speculation; we are closer to the end of time than we were yesterday. But it’s not the Supreme Court of the United States that dictates the nearness. The financial crisis in Greece doesn’t determine our proximity to the Second Coming. The violent actions of ISIS, Boko Haram, and Charleston are not the determinative factors that indicate an impending end. We each are closer to the end because life is tenuous.

Beloved administrator and educator, Pat Habada, went to her rest at 86 after a lifetime of courageous battles. Roy Branson was 77 when he passed away at home. Gerry Chudleigh succumbed to cancer. I had a 58-year-old friend who stepped off a bathroom scale, fell, hit his head, and died. Recently, a woman who had just retired as a local Conference departmental director, slowed to a stop in a traffic jam on a freeway when an oncoming car failed to stop and rammed into her at 65-miles-per-hour, killing her instantly. A little girl, ten years old, died in the hospital after a routine procedure. An infant in a crib just didn’t wake up one morning. Life is fragile. Life expectancy is uncertain. There are no guarantees. The end may happen for any of us at any time, without prophetic fulfillments, or signs of impending change, or warnings of our demise.

As vital as is the Second Coming hope that sustains us while we strive to cope with real life, we dare not substitute our expectation of the eventual rescue from this enemy-held territory for the thrilling assurance that God is with us now and will never leave us as we go into all the world and tell the captivating story of Jesus.

I am determined to be less distracted. Surely we all have better things to do with our time and money and energy than to travel across the world to get together to argue with each other and vehemently assert our individual interpretations, as if any of us had an absolute lock on understanding God’s will.

If we could start over again, perhaps we could begin by agreeing “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly” with our God (Micah 6:8). That’s a spiritual reality we must never forget.

Stuart Tyner is a recently-retired pastor from the Southeastern California Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6981
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This is the text that has been repeated in my heart and mind all week. Thanks for this good article.

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Who could write it better than Stuart Tyner???
He is a man who truly understands Grace. Everyone should read his refreshing book on Grace (@amazon.com)

PS- Don’t worry guys, it IS a “Denominational Book,” so nobody will get in trouble with TW (no “grave consequences”…) for reading it… It has the “imprimatur” seal from the guys upstairs…

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yes it is one of the best books in my library. The introductory poem is worth the price. Tom Z

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I suppose it is a reflection of my personal cultural bias and interpretation of your choice of words that I think all those who are posting comments after all the various Spectrum articles on the recent GC session and its aftermath should be required to read this reflection as a condition of making any further comments.

Thank you so much for these words, Stuart!

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After the Celtic Communion Service last evening,
one of the phrases we we say together in closing is–
See who you are. Become Who you See.

We “chant” this every week at service, so we can “chant” this ALL WEEK, during the week.

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Excellent. Oh: More characters: Thank you for this insightful essay.

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So refreshing to read Tyner’s reflections after reading Kevin Paulson’s triumphant threats from G.C. and his point #6 predicting a committee will be formed for the “unfinished business” at San Antonio of stripping commissions from women pastors and ordinations from women elders.

The “recommendation” was made by delegate Katherine Proffit to form a committee to “address the exact limits and possibilities of women serving in ministry, and will thus open the way for the further clarification the church still needs regarding women serving as local elders and as commissioned ministers.”(Kevin Paulson | “What San Antonio Accomplished” - A Summary of Positive Achievements by the GC Session of 2015 | 19 July 2015 | ADvindicate)

"6.THE RECOMMENDATION THAT A NEW COMMITTEE BE FORMED BY THE GENERAL CONFERENCE TO OUTLINE THE BIBLICAL ROLE OF WOMEN IN MINISTRY.

"This recommendation, made in the same manner as the one five years ago in Atlanta which led to the establishment of the Theology of Ordination Study Committee (TOSC), was both accepted by the chair and makes possible a future clarification of the roles of women in ministry which can address the unfinished business of San Antonio—specifically, the outstanding issues of women serving as ordained local elders and commissioned ministers, the latter including in a number of cases the role of senior pastors.

“With this new committee, the way is open for the resolution of these outstanding challenges, whether at an Annual Council (the highest governing body of the church which has approved female elders and commissioned ministers) or a future General Conference session.”

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This reflects a failure of leadership: those who have traveled or worked in many areas of the world should have been educating the members of the wide diversity in the church to be more patient and understanding of those who see things differently. This was amply demonstrated in the call for unity in voting on WO when world leaders knew it should not be up for a vote. Voting on such a controversial topic does not unify but only creates more discord as the evidence fully shows with comments of winners and sore losers. This only fueled hard feeling and destroyed the conciliatory atmosphere that was felt by so many.

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“Never felt better” with this message. Just look around and see what the alternatives are. Which reminds me of the following story:

"Way out west (in America, of course under SECC jurisdiction), a cowboy is driving down a road, his dog riding in the back of his pickup truck, his faithful horse in the trailer behind. As he takes a curve on the highway he suddenly loses control of the vehicle and has a terrible accident.

Sometime later, a State Police officer comes on the scene. A great lover of animals, the officer’s attention is first drawn to the horse. Realizing the serious nature of its injuries, he draws his service revolver and puts the animal out of its misery. Then walking around the accident he finds the dog, also critically wounded, and whining miserably in pain. This grips his heart and he quickly ends the dog’s suffering as well.

Finally the police officer locates the cowboy, who has suffered multiple fractures and can barely breathe. “Hey, are you okay?”, he says.

The cowboy takes one look at the smoking gun in the trooper’s hand and quickly replies, with unexpected energy, “Never felt better!”"

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Robert Frost’s Gravestone in Bennington, Vermont “I had a lover’s quarrel with the world”
So many of us have been having a lover’s quarrel with the church lately on a number of issues. Robert Frost has much to teach us on all sides of the WO issue, and I found myself comforted and inspired by these thoughts that he wrote and that meant so much to him he had the title put on his tombstone as an epitaph. Read it carefully. “I had a lover’s quarrel with the world” by Robert Frost. If you want to cope and understand what some of us in the church are feeling at this juncture, take this poem by Frost and substitute the word “CHURCH” every time he uses the word “WORLD”. It fits beautifully.
“I had a lover’s quarrel with the world”
If this uncertain age in which we dwell
Were really as dark as I hear sages tell,
And I convinced that they were really sages,
I should not curse myself with it to hell,
But leaving not the chair I long have sat in,
I should betake me back ten thousand pages
To the world’s undebatably dark ages,
And getting up my medieval Latin.
Seek converse common cause and brotherhood
(By all that’s liberal–I should, I should)
With the poets who could calmly take the fate
Of being born at once too early and late,
And for those reasons kept from being great,
Yet singing but Dione in the wood
And ver aspergit terram floribus
They slowly led old Latin verse to rhyme
And to forget the ancient lengths of time,
And so began the modern world for us.

I’d say, O Master of the Palace School,
You were not Charles’ nor anybody’s fool:
Tell me as pedagogue to pedagogue,
You did not know that since King Charles did rule
You had no chance but to be minor, did you?
Your light was spent perhaps as in a fog
That at once kept you burning low and hid you.
The age may very well have been to blame
For your not having won to Virgil’s fame.
But no one ever heard you make the claim.
You would not think you knew enough to judge
The age when full upon you. That’s my point.
We have today and I could call their name
Who know exactly what is out of joint
To make their verse and their excuses lame.
They’ve tried to grasp with too much social fact
Too large a situation. You and I
Would be afraid if we should comprehend
And get outside of too much bad statistics
Our muscles never could again contract:
We never could recover human shape,
But must live lives out mentally agape,
Or die of philosophical distention.
That’s how we feel–and we’re no special mystics.

We can’t appraise the time in which we act
But for the folly of it, let’s pretend
We know enough to know it for adverse.
One more millennium’s about to end.
Let’s celebrate the event, my distant friend,
In publicly disputing which is worse,
The present age or your age. You and I
As schoolmen of repute should qualify
To wage a fine scholastical contention
As to whose age deserves the lower mark,
Or should I say the higher one, for dark.
I can just hear the way you make it go:
There’s always something to be sorry for,
A sordid peace or an outrageous war.
Yes, yes, of course. We have the same convention.
The groundwork of all faith is human woe.
It was well worth preliminary mention.
There’s nothing but injustice to be had,
No choice is left a poet, you might add,
But how to take the curse, tragic or comic.
It was well worth preliminary mention.
But let’s go on to where our cases part,
If part they do. Let me propose a start.
(We’re rivals in the badness of our case,
Remember, and must keep a solemn face.)
Space ails us moderns: we are sick with space.
Its contemplations makes us out as small
As a brief epidemic of microbes
That in a good glass may be seen to crawl
The patina of this the least of globes.
But have we there the advantage after all?
You were belittled into vilest worms
God hardly tolerated with his feet;
Which comes to the same thing in different terms.
We both are the belittled human race,
One as compared with God and one with space.
I had thought ours the more profound disgrace;
But doubtless this was only my conceit.
The cloister and the observatory saint
Take comfort in about the same complaint.
So science and religion really meet.

I can just about hear you call your Palace class:
Come learn the Latin Eheu for alas.
You may not want to use it and you may.
O paladins, the lesson for today
Is how to be unhappy yet polite.
And at the summons Roland, Olivier,
And every sheepish paladin and peer,
Being already more than proved in fight,
Sits down in school to try if he can write
Like Horace in the true Horatian vein,
Yet like a Christian disciplined to bend
His mind to thinking always of the end.
Memento mori and obey the Lord.
Art and religion love the somber chord.
Earth’s a hard place in which to save the soul,
And could it be brought under state control,
So automatically we all were saved,
Its separateness from Heaven could be waived;
It might as well at once be kingdom-come.
(Perhaps it will be next millennium.)

But these are universals, not confined
To any one time, place, or human kind.
We’re either nothing or a God’s regret.
As ever when philosophers are met,
No matter where they stoutly mean to get,
Nor what particulars they reason from,
They are philosophers, and from old habit
They end up in the universal Whole
As unoriginal as any rabbit.

One age is like another for the soul.
I’m telling you. You haven’t said a thing,
Unless I put it in your mouth to say.
I’m having the whole argument my way–
But in your favor–please to tell your King–
In having granted you all ages shine
With equal darkness, yours as dark as mine,
I’m liberal. You, you aristocrat,
Won’t know exactly what I mean by that.
I mean so altruistically moral
I never take my own side in a quarrel.
I’d lay my hand on his hand on his staff
Lean back and have my confidential laugh,
And tell him I had read his Epitaph.

It sent me to the graves the other day.
The only other there was far away
Across the landscape with a watering pot
At his devotions in a special plot.
And he was there resuscitating flowers
(Make no mistake about its being bones);
But I was only there to read the stones
To see what on the whole they had to say
About how long a man may think to live,
Which is becoming my concern of late.
And very wide the choice they seemed to give;
Thee ages ranging all the way from hours
To months and years and many many years.
One man had lived one hundred years and eight.
But though we all may be inclined to wait
And follow some development of state,
Or see what comes of science and invention,
There is a limit to our time extension.
We all are doomed to broken-off careers,
And so’s the nation, so’s the total race.
The earth itself is liable to the fate
Of meaninglessly being broken off.
(And hence so many literary tears
At which my inclination is to scoff.)
I may have wept that any should have died
Or missed their chance, or not have been their best,
Or been their riches, fame, or love denied;
On me as much as any is the jest.
I take my incompleteness with the rest.
God bless himself can no one else be blessed.

I hold your doctrine of Memento Mori.
And were an epitaph to be my story
I’d have a short one ready for my own.
I would have written of me on my stone:
I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.

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AHA, the kamikazes are coming, eh?
They have no right to control the ships (aka Unions) so they are planning to do something “bombastic” from the air!!!

More Unions should make a pre-emptive declaration to make it clear that they will not allow to be attacked just because some people decided so. Not all Unions of course, but those who have matured enough and are ready to eliminate discrimination of women in their territories.

I wonder if Kevin is dreaming with being the chairman of that commission that will engage in witch hunting. Well, … a job is always a job, right? His dream may become a nightmare to the Denomination!

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George, it’s like living in a spy novel. No one can guess the next twist or turn in the plot. (You, of course, being of the prophet variety and gifted with insight on vote outcomes, could help us here.)

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The seer’s vision is still obfuscated by the maneuvers that took place in SA.
But, don’t expect much happening that soon. They have to allow the dust to settle down before announcing their next move. Plans can be made, but action has to wait a little, to save face.

In this sense what @kevindpaulson is doing is contra-productive. He is doing what Trump is doing, messing up the party’s plans. Soon they will be angry at him. He is not supposed to yet reveal all those things! He wants to score some points with the administration, but they may soon throw him under the bus because of his impatience.

Well, after all, what he has been revealing is something that the prophets already know, so what is the big fuss anyway?

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George’s prophetic gifts seems to rest on some 15 year old, featherless parrot. I worry! :fearful: @GeorgeTichy :smiley:

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ROFLOL!!!
I am suspicious of that guy as well, as I said before. This is why I didn’t rely on him - only on the younger ones - when I predicted ALL those issues about the SA2015, and ALL were fulfilled exactly as predicted. Good enough for me… :wink:

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Kevin’s piece in Advinticate is but an elaboration of his enthusiasm for the vote that others have shared with him for four years that it won’t amount to a hill of beans. Have to admire his tenacity, but it isn’t squaring with reality. He even overlooked what turns out to be a major blow to the anti WO camp as far as getting their theology accepted to define our male pastor only ordination policy. We voted down the wording to be placed into our FB on the Godhead that would have put “eternal subordination” of Christ to the Father. It’s a major kingpin to the whole framework of headship theology. It isn’t a part of our Church’s accepted belief system, and neither is headship. So there isn’t anything to base their male only ordination of pastors, but their own views which are not accepted by the church as a whole. Too, the GC has no legal leverage to change the constituency votes that allowed women to be ordained. Kevin is blinded by his misguided enthusiasm on what happened in SA.

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Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes (you understand that one yes is not enough)

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That would have been one of the biggest heretical maneuvers in the history of Christianity!

What concerns me most, though, is that such a horrific idea was able to make it to the voting table! How could that happen? It only reveals how vulnerable and fragile the SDA theological structure is. Scary indeed!

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Of course, of course, of course! …

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