In a recent discussion thread about the dismissal of the La Sierra University four, Bill Cork posted the following:
“No one is forced to join the Seventh-day Adventist church. When one does,one is asked, "Do you believe that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and that you are to honor God by caring for your body, avoiding the use of that which is harmful, abstaining from all unclean foods, from the use,manufacture, or sale of alcoholic beverages, the use, manufacture, or sale of tobacco in any of its forms for human consumption, and from the misuse of, or trafficking in, narcotics or other drugs?"
The idea seems to be that, if you are not in 100% agreement with the 28 fundamental beliefs, plus other generally held beliefs and practices of the Adventist church, you should not join the church or leave the church. It is not my goal to single out Bill, because this idea has been expressed by many traditional Adventists including Cliff Goldstein and Kevin Paulsen, (both of whom are among my Internet friends). While there may be others, the only person I can think of who is clearly in the Historic Adventist camp and has not advocated driving out of the opposition is Herbert Douglas, and yet at the same time he has vigorously defended his understanding of Scripture. Because of this I have great admiration for him.
Let’s explore what this means, what this “get-out-of-my-church” position really means:
1. The Church is the Highest Authority. There is a general belief that Adventism is rooted in Methodism. There is some truth in this, but much of the foundational approach to church and Scripture came from “The Christian Connexion”, a group serious, to the point of being rabid, about Scripture and Scripture alone as their sole authority. The risk, of course, was that they had to allow for competing viewpoints and personal interpretations. The benefit was a deeper, more personal understanding of God. In post-millential Adventism, believers who want to drive out those with impure theology base that desire on an amalgamation of Scripture, Ellen White’s writings, and church tradition. In effect their position is that God cannot shed new light or reveal new ideas unless they have been first incorporated into the 28 fundamentals, or at least blessed in some fashion by the General Conference. The practical result is that the church, and not Scripture, is the highest authority. This is hugely ironic because it is the foundational criticism that early Adventists laid on the Roman Catholic Church.
2. The Church has become a creedal Church. Because of their connection to the Christian Connexion movement, the pioneers of the Adventist church were staunchly anti-creedal and for good reason. They recognized that creedal churches, by their very nature, limited the ability of Jesus’s followers to apply truth to their times. They also recognized that a creedal church can be a cruel church. The creed becomes the justification for treating those who question or disagree with any part of the creed with great hostility. It creates a sense that the “guilty” party, the questioning party, is somehow less human and therefore permits ungodly, unholy spiritual violence.
3. It confuses and diminishes the gift of Salvation. In previous articles I have proposed that one does not have to believe in a literal, recent, six contiguous twenty-four hour day creation in order to be saved. Several of the “get-out-of-my-church” people have agreed with this proposition, but have then gone on to say that, while these folks might be saved, they cannot be members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. This is an bizarre position. Either the point of the Adventist church is to save the lost or it is a cult of membership. We receive the gift of salvation when we accept Jesus as our Savior and we maintain our right to that gift by staying in connection with him—not because we adhere to what is, ultimately, a man-made set of theological propositions.
4. It requires a revisionist view of Adventist history. There are many that comment on Spectrum who don't have the highest view of Ellen White’s writings. I understand this sentiment because her writings have been, and often continue to be, misused. I will admit that there are some things she has written that give me pause but, for the most part, I find her understanding on the nature of God and the story of salvation to be insightful and helpful to my spiritual journey. Unfortunately, while claiming to be committed to a more historic view of Adventism and Ellen White, those who have a “get-out-of-my-church” mindset have equally treated Adventist history and Ellen White with a different kind of scorn. At times Ellen White had great conflict over theological issues and church practices. She never once threatened to take her marbles and go some place else or attempted to drive the opposition out of the church. Furthermore, if you study the history of how she dealt with the hugely aberrant theology of Kellogg, Jones and Waggoner, she prayed for and with them; she had dialog with them; she cautioned them and rebuked them, but most importantly of all: she put up with them.
5. It requires faulty exegesis of Scripture. Jesus says in the parable of the wheat and tares (Matt 13: 24-30), that the weeding is to be done by the angels at the end of the age. Does this still apply? It seems to be the position of some that the angels are not moving fast enough and, therefore they are going to step in and do some weeding in advance of the angels. When you step back and examine the entire life and ministry of Jesus, you do not find a single instance where Jesus attempts to drive anyone from the church. He drove the money changers from the temple courts and demons from a possessed man, but never people from the religious community. He was committed to drawing people to him and to the gospel, not to pushing people away. Even Judas was never driven away, but was allowed to go as far as he wanted, to his own destruction.
6. Be careful what you wish for. When witch hunts are successful the hunters to do not quit hunting, rather they look for new witches. There is much in Adventist practice that is very subjective: how pure your diet is; how literal you view Scripture and Ellen White; how carefully you keep the Sabbath; whether you live in the city or the country and how close you live to the city; whether you believe the earth is less than 6,000 years old or is young but older than 6,000 years; whether the earth as a blob was created in the short earth or existed for a long time. The problem is that those who take the “get-out-of-my-church” position could easily find themselves a target as the standards narrow with the driving out of the first level of undesirables. I find myself reminded of that famous quote by German Pastor Martin Niemöller:
First they came for the communists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.
I love this quote from Ellen White:
The fact that there is no controversy or agitation among God’s people, should not be regarded as conclusive evidence that they are holding fast to sound doctrine. There is a reason to fear that they may not be clearly discriminating between truth and error. When no new questions are started by investigation of the Scriptures, when no difference of opinion arises which will set men to searching the Bible for themselves, to make sure that they have the truth, there will be many now, as in ancient times, who will hold to tradition, and worship they know not what.” CW 39.1
Those who want to drive the “riff raff” from the church seem to miss completely the concept that, just because someone disagrees with a theological tenant of the church, it does not mean that they do not love Jesus and that they do not love the Adventist church. By Adventist standards, my theology and practice is largely conservative. The theology of Alexander Carpenter, Ryan Bell, Bonnie Dwyer and others sometimes drives me crazy. I cannot begin to tell you how wrong I sometimes think they are. Yet I know they are a valuable part of the community, that they love Jesus and love the Adventist Church. In their view there are things that are terribly wrong with the church. They are fighting to make their view known, to advocate their positions.They are part of my family and they are my friends, even when I think they are wrong. They force me to think about things. That forces me to grow, and this is good. They help me have a better picture of truth.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/3295