How Healthy is Adventist Eschatology? (4) - An Ecclesiological Imbalance

How much does the present articulation of Adventist eschatology impact the way we understand and organize our church? One might argue that theology and church organization, even if related, are not necessarily very dependent on each other. The soundness of our theological affirmations would be because they are biblical and thus are in no way dependent on what we do practically. Perhaps our organizational structure and efforts are based more on circumstantial, cultural and practical considerations that only afterwards look for a theological justification, in order to appear absolute and definitive. Theology and church organization could be two coexistent and parallel entities which, after all, don’t really influence each other very much.

However, in my opinion, a denomination’s theology and organization are very much dependent on each other, even though their relationship is not directly causal or linear, but rather indirect, contingent and inspirational. Our church organization doesn’t emerge in an ideological vacuum but rather in the theological milieu made of our most deep and intimate eschatological convictions. And our theological convictions, or at least their formulation, are not so neutral, pure and transparent as they appear to be at first sight. Instead they are rather heavily laden with the weight of our historical age, with a strong Western cultural conditioning and a big dose of America’s pragmatic and managerial ethos. It is certainly not a sin to be American, pragmatic and modern. But it could be if we are incapable of admitting it and consider it the only possible present alternative and destiny for a world-wide church like ours.

We have developed a very static and substantialist approach to theology. Adventist theology is certainly not the only possible biblical theology. And understanding this fact, besides corresponding better to the Bible’s inclusive spirit, would also be healthy for Adventism itself. This view is biblical because the Bible is God’s testimony that allows various possible readings. To elevate one’s own biblical interpretation to be the unique one is idolatrous. But this view is also healthy for Adventism because a beneficial, partial dissociation between Adventism and the Bible can help heal us from the detrimental attitude that compulsively pushes us to make absolute and definitive, that which in fact is relative, transitory and circumstantial.

Adventism and the Bible need to be maintained in a closed relationship, as our pioneers have done, but not symbiotically. A symbiotic relationship dishonors the Bible because it diminishes its universality and openness. But it also damages Adventism in perpetuating our biases, contradictions and fears by giving them a biblical endorsement. And we need to remember that a community’s fears, tensions and uncertainties do not always manifest themselves through insecurity and vulnerability, but often through arrogance, unassailable certainty and an exclusive spirit, articulated as unconscious, social defense mechanisms.

As we have been considering in my three previous columns, Adventist Eschatology is modulated and recognizable by some typical traits. First, by the priority of Apocalypticism over Messianism. Second, by the earnest and fervent defense of a programmed and predicted, rather than contingent and open future. And third by the radicalization of a pre-millenialist ethos over and against our surrounding secularized more post-millenialist socio-cultural context. All this has ultimately had a consistent impact on the way we understand our church.

I would like to characterize this impact in three ways: by the reinforcement of an ecclesiastical isolationism, by the radicalization of an ecclesiastical catastrophism, and by the emergence of a homogenizing ecclesiastical authoritarianism. This is what I call the “ecclesiastical imbalance” present today in Adventism. It is produced not by a wrong eschatology, but paradoxically by a correct eschatology, yet one “formulated” a-critically and in defense of a pretended formal orthodoxy.

Isolationism, catastrophism and authoritarianism are three unambiguous trends of today’s Adventism, visible in the majority of our communities throughout the world, present in our official documents, and particularly recurrent in this General Conference presidency’s public addresses. What if these were apocalyptic anti-trinitarian traits we expected to see in others (apostate entities) but paradoxically find expression in ourselves, nurtured by a lack of self-criticism and an excessive trust in our certainty? Nobody is above the risk of incarnating some of the end-time Beast’s idiosyncratic traits. To consider oneself or one’s own community beyond that risk is simply inadequate, even idolatrous.

Official Adventism would like to consider these characteristics as limited, unimportant and completely detached from our deep theological and eschatological convictions. Unfortunately that’s not the case. We certainly can’t and must not change our founding principles. These are not negotiable. But here we need to introduce an important distinction. What’s not negotiable is the existence of our founding theological principles not their formulation. This distinction is crucial because very often it is not the existence of our founding principles themselves but their formulation which is more influential for today’s Adventist ethos. And the formulation we are giving to our present eschatological convictions is not helping us at all to correct the above-mentioned undesirable trends.

The inevitable though not causal reciprocity between eschatology and church organization should push us to consider present circumstances as both as flexible and negotiable. The specific and historical circumstances we are living in today are not a risk for our faith experience, even though we need to read and assess them critically, with the help of the Holy Spirit. They also represent in fact an opportunity to reformulate the non-negotiable founding principles of Adventism in their best and possible articulation. But instead, through a short-sighted theological and religious attitude, we improperly transfer the justified non-negotiability from the founding principles’ existence to their formulation. We then transfer them to the church organization, making absolute and untouchable what should always remain flexible and contextual. The final result is that we maintain rigid and untouchable theological formulations with a comparable church organization. Let’s briefly consider the three characteristics of this ecclesiastical imbalance.

1. Ecclesiastical Isolationism

The predominance of Apocalypticism over Messianism pushes us to accent exclusivity rather than the strong inclusive character of God’s kingdom. And, if God’s kingdom is exclusive like this, the church must follow the same pattern. We try then to protect ourselves from contamination. We look for God’s Salvation in self-purity detached from others. But by proceeding this way we can forget that the essence of Eschatology is its universality and its inclusive character. Consequently no Church can ever be identical to God’s kingdom. That would be blasphemous. There always will be an unbridgeable surplus in God’s kingdom no church can ever fill. For this reason those I’m ignoring or excluding could be part of the same God’s kingdom I’m pretending to instantiate and defend. This is the dramatic paradox of a narcissistic and isolationist church.

2. Ecclesiastical Catastrophism

The radicalization of our pre-millenialist eschatological stand, over and against our surrounding secularized more post-millenialist socio-cultural context, pushes us to read other religious entities and surrounding culture almost exclusively in dramatic and negative terms. Nothing good can be expected from others outside. This ecclesiastical pessimism is correlative to the previous ecclesiastical isolationism because represents its very premise. But by proceeding this way we reintroduce the anthropological dualism our theology had overcome in its ecclesiastical and social form. After this, there are parts of humanity that are completely good (Adventism) and other parts (the “world”) that are completely bad. In addition, this attitude pushes us to build up our strengths by diminishing others. Just the opposite of Jesus himself and of his Kingdom.

3. Ecclesiastical Authoritarianism

Our earnest and fervent defense of a programmed and prophetically predictable, rather than a contingent and open future, pushes us to use preferentially direct and efficient means to reach our eschatological goals and accomplish our end-time mission as quickly as possible. We Adventists are already very pragmatic due to our historical genesis in the United States. And, with this additional eschatological dose of order and precision, we very easily have become fascinated by the efficiency and reliability that ecclesiastical paternalism seems to guarantee. The human exceptions or alternatives become deprecated. These are only distractions. What really matters is rapidity, compactness and results. And here unilateral, authoritarian and even dictatorial measures are needed, and even praised, because they accentuate a results-oriented approach to mission.

This ethos certainly underpins the recent General Conference initiative given to the Unity Oversight Committee, which has blossomed into a network of five compliance review committees, each with a different topic to oversee. Compliance Review Committees have been created for 1) General Conference Core Policies; 2) Doctrines, Policies, Statements, and Guidelines for Church Organizations and Institutions Teaching Creation/Origins; 3) Doctrines, Policies, Statements, and Guidelines Regarding Homosexuality; 4) Distinctive Beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church; and 5) Doctrines, Policies, Statements and Guidelines Regarding Issues of Ordination.

We might view the quasi-inquisitorial push through these five surveillance commissions as merely some drastic and ill-considered administrative strategies. In fact they are more than that. They are, unfortunately, the administrative expression of unbalanced and unilateral theological and eschatological formulations, which we seem to be unable to correct and balance, because they “belong” to the very doctrinal heart of Adventism. It would be illusory to try to correct only these administrative strategies without also reformulating our theological presuppositions and convictions. Between beliefs and practices, there is much more dependence, reciprocity and conditioning than we usually think.

Hanz Gutierrez is a Peruvian theologian, philosopher, and physician. Currently, he is Chair of the Systematic Theology Department at the Italian Adventist Theological Faculty of “Villa Aurora” and director of the CECSUR (Cultural Center for Human and Religious Sciences) in Florence, Italy.

Previous Spectrum columns by Hanz Gutierrez can be found at: https://spectrummagazine.org/authors/hanz-gutierrez

Image Credit: Adventist News Network

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8998
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174 years less a month until the misguided response to the Great Disappointment has bourn its bailful fruit. The Lord will return on His schedule not our prefection. Let us have faith in His Grace for such a time as this.

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You said… what? Would you mind writing in words that mere laymen can understand? I have a degree in theology but I found myself working so hard to understand the volume of high-sounding theological terms that it was impossible to understand what I was reading.

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Translation… uh…uh…sorry can’t come up with one.

Thank you Hans G. for highlighting three directional trends exhibited by the
current GC leadership.
And William Noel, your perplexity is understandable. But NOT because Hans
Guiterrez is on the ‘wrong track’ or ‘talks in code’, but because the SDA Church,
to its shame, has few if any sociologists, whereas it is overloaded with theologians,
HENCE THE CURRENT SITUATION.
One only has to consider the push towards authoritarianism and the incorporation
of an officially sanctioned Compliance Police which is tasked with implementing strict
GC interpretations of Scripture and the 28 fundamentals. The task-force will encourage
‘loyal informants’ to pass on information and beliefs of suspected dissidents who
supposedly are a ‘security risk’ to the Church.
It seems reasonable to ask, Are we trending toward the likes of Sharia Law, the Gestapo,
or some kind of Morality Police??? No doubt, accessing Spectrum or similar digital
platforms will be reported.
What should believers do in such circumstances? To counteract such measures and
pressures, church members who love Jesus should support each other, develop
solidarity among like-minded churches, conferences and unions, and openly discuss
the implications and wider ramifications of the continuing existence of Compliance
Committees.

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The following is what my friend Randall has shown me.
I would like to suggest a new eschatological scheme and a starting point for developing our theology, that I believe will more accurately reflect the Word of God. This is an outline, and should be easily understood by all.
First, the theology…

We have an ongoing and increasingly popular movement in the SDA Church to support some of our SDA pioneers position that Jesus is not Jehovah God. I would like to present a few verses from the Jehovahs Witness New World Translation, specifically written to ensure that Jesus is not perceived as Jehovah God, but was created by God. (It actually says Jesus is Jehovah God!)
At your leisure read the same in another translation for comparison. After that we’ll look at the eschatological issue.
Rev 1:1
A revelation by Jesus Christ, which God gave him, to show his slaves the things that must shortly take place. And HE SENT HIS ANGEL and presented it in signs through him to his slave John…
Rev 22:6
He said to me: “These words are faithful and true; yes, JEHOVAH, THE GOD WHO INSPIRED THE PROPHETS , HAS SENT HIS ANGEL to show his slaves the things that must shortly take place.
Rev 22:16
“‘I JESUS, SENT MY ANGEL to bear witness to you about these things for the CONGREGATIONS. I am the root and the offspring of David and the bright morning star.’”
And the Holy Spirit? The Jehovah’s Witnesses DO NOT believe the Holy Spirit is God…but for our purposes their view of the Holy Spirit ALSO declares Jesus is God. They substitute congregations for churches in Rev. ch2&3, as they do in Rev. 22:16
Rev 2 verse 7
Let the one who has an ear hear what the SPIRIT says to the CONGREGATIONS:…
You can see from these verses in a translation that does not support the idea that Jesus is God, that JESUS is the LORD GOD JEHOVAH of the HOLY PROPHETS that SENT HIS ANGEL to John. You also can see that God the Father gifted this vision to John and that the Holy Spirit is involved in this message to the Churches.
Summed up? The Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, the Angel Jesus sent are all involved in making sure the Apostle and Prophet John records this, so that we have a clear understanding of who Jesus is. That’s 4 heavenly and 1 earthly witness testifying that Jesus is God.
No circular reasoning starting with an assumption that Jesus is not God, resulting in the inevitable conclusion that He is not God.
Just plain scripture from the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, an Angel and John, that Jesus is God. Does it get any simpler or definitive than that? And this, paradoxically from the Jehovah’s Witness New World Translation. Read this from another version, if you so desire.

  1. Eschatology
    The current problem with SDA Eschatology, is that it doesn’t work with Revelation 22:18.
    “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:”
    Can’t get the historical interpretation to work. There is more than one way to show this, but we just need one. Let’s say today I add to the ‘words’ of this prophecy? (And yes book here is Biblion in Greek, a small book, the Revelation.) I’m going to have to be translated back to, or die and be resurrected in the past to suffer the plagues of Chapter 8 and 9. Either way, you are going to live hundreds of years to go through those plagues. Then die and be resurrected for the seven last plagues. You’re free to believe what you want, but that doesn’t work for me.
    So what works? Here is one scenario. (You’re going to have to read this for yourself in the chapters involved.)
    In Chapter 8 incense is offered with the prayers of ALL Saints. This is when no more decisions for Christ will be made. There is a resurrection of those that have added to AND subtracted from the Book(If you add you have also subtracted resulting in your name being taken out of the Book of life).
    Satan takes advantage of this resurrection, presenting himself as Christ. It’s his last chance for defeating God, and escaping eternal death,and the deception will be OVERWHELMING!
    The first four trumpet angels sound and somewhere after the fourth trumpet sounds, Jesus comes in the clouds of heaven.
    A thousand years go by. The fifth Trumpet sounds. Again, this is at the end of the thousand years. The five months are one month for each of the first five of the seven last plagues of Revelation 16. The sixth trumpet is the sixth plague and the seventh trumpet is the seventh plague. Both the seventh Trumpet in Rev. chapter 9 and the seventh Plague of Rev. 16 should be read as a chiasm leading back to the sounding of the seventh Trumpet and the vial of the seventh plague. The phrase containing lightning, thundering etc. contains all the elements presented in both seventh trumpet and seventh plague, but NO WHERE ELSE in the Revelation. (Look carefully for the hail in Revelation 16.)
    If you like numbers, you will find ten plagues total, just like in Exodus, and the second and third coming which adds up to 12 events. I like those numbers.
    That’s it. As a bit of a side issue, Ellen White’s 1856 vision, which apparently failed actually works with this scenario. Look carefully, and you will see how.
    If you have questions I’ll try to answer. But I am new and am limited to just a few comments. Randall is currently in Spectrum prison, and if I run out of allowable comments, he will respond when he can. He says the food there is pretty good. And he is not forced to eat green meat, nor is he forced to watch the Disney channel, as has been reported in at least one penal institution. So thanks to Spectrum, for the necessary, but lenient prison sentence. I believe he has repented of his crime.
    One more thing. While Randall has been institutionalized, he believes the LORD has given him the answer to a complexity he saw in Revelation ch. 2 and 3, at least three years ago, but has been unable to solve, until now. He is very excited about what the LORD has shown him, there. Turns out it has everything to do with what has just been presented here. When he is released he will be happy to share. Or you can contact me. We are allowed visits.
    God bless you all,
    Melissa

Matthew 24:36

The Father KNOWS the day and the hour of the second coming…

Agreed, what should believers do in such circumstances? What with the beard growing and request to look back on our roots in the upcoming GC Session I would recommend leadership be reminded again of statements like the following:

" In presenting to the public this synopsis of our faith, we wish to have it distinctly understood that we have no article of faith, creed or discipline, aside from the Bible. We do not put forth this as having any authority with our people, nor is it designed to secure uniformity among them, as a system of faith, but is a brief statement of what is, and has been, with gf great unanimity, held by them." (In, “A declaration of the fundamental principles taught and practices by the Seventh Day Adventist”, published in 1872)

If you follow these principles no such Compliance would even be considered and one would realize that over the last 146 years why not.

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A scholarly analysis of the current and recurring self aggrandizement of Adventism. Simply put— My way or the Highway.

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Theologians are increasingly “talking in code” that few outside their scholastic circle understand and this article is an excellent example of that. Hence my observation that I know a number of theologians but I can’t point to a single one who is actually ministering God’s love in any way that is drawing people into a closer relationship with God. Some are so deep into their use of big words that I wonder if they’re even talking about the same Jesus who taught using parables that the common people understood clearly but left the highly-educated puzzled.

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The reasoning is simple but wrong. It goes something like this—If this is God final Church then as President I am God’s final man. As such I am responsible of seeing that His Church shapes up. I have the votes that confirm my role. If this is the shaking time then I am the prime shaker.

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Genesis 4:6-7 "Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”

There it is, plain and simple, “You must master it.” All of us are subject to deep-seated drives that are both necessary for survival and other times can be dysfunctional and destructive. We have to be able to control our passions. In neuroscientific terms, the prefrontal cortex allows us to understand our behavior and its consequences whereas the limbic system, powerful and faster, holds us in the grip of strong emotions. It is our God-given responsibility to exercise self-discipline and choose good judgement to transcend and control our passions, a critical issue which TW and his ADCOMM have failed to demonstrate.

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It is required to get a degree and a post. it is necessary to confound the witch hunters. Paul tried it in Athens,it made no impact. Graham Maxwell was the master of the common tongue but wise enough to confound the brethren. Heppenstall likewise. poor Des was too plain speaking.

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ESCHATOLOGY and APOCALYPSE are cumbersome theological terms not easily grasped by a blue collar brain.

“END TIMES” would be a more suitable synonym.

As to “healthy”
regrettably, eschatology has a connotation that conjures up “catastrophe” “calamity” “conflagration” and. “carnage”. Destruction and devastation come to mind.

The Second Coming does not have a joyful aura about it.
More particularly, if it is to be allegedly preceded by a “time of trouble such as never was “, which foreshadows fear, fright and foreboding.

The apocalypse is a “push button” event and God has his finger on the button.

That He chooses not to expedite the event, nor to FAST FORWARD the grand finale, surely makes Him complicit in the ongoing human tragedy.

The Rohingya refugees, the Syrian debacle, drowning Mediterranean boat people, and misery everywhere, apparently leaves Him complacent and compassionless. He could end it all in a heart beat!

For me, ESCHATOLOGY implies a deliberately delayed event that calls into question a God who has compassion for humankind .

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Jesus explained things in simple ways that the simplest of people could understand. So if our eschatology and apocalyptic discussions are too difficult to be understood by “blue collar” brains, why should we imagine there is value in studying them.

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There are more cumbersome words in here than those. So many we stumble over them and they distract… It could be explained so much more simpler…Otherwise the ideas presented are honest.

Would you really feel more comfortable if your cardiologist didn’t even know terms like hypertension or CABG?

I had an experience that suggests a better alternative than dumbing-down the specialists I listen to. I’m not a pilot, but I once joined a friend who was taking a course on IFR navigation. Eventually, we visited an Air Traffic Control Center that had detailed weather conditions projected on the walls in non-stop gibberish. Suddenly, I realized I could read and understand it all. Riding in the right hand seat is more gratifying than ever.

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William…

But Paul didn’t. Peter even said his letters could be difficult to understand. Should we say there is no value in studying them because they are not simple enough? Romans, the most complex of all, has been at the heart of just about every major reformation in church history.

Thanks…

Frank

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The cardiologist’s knowledge of the terms isn’t the problem, but they create a problem for me if they can’t explain things so I can understand what they are talking about. Likewise, what value is there in a theologian’s words if they can’t explain them in terms that can be easily understood?

How are we to trust that their words are honest if we don’t understand what they’re saying?