Instead of Hierarchy: The Local Congregation as Embodiment of Christ

The Local Congregation as Embodiment of Christ

Humans never lack, it seems, a sense of crisis. Alarm bells ring all the time; hearts and minds are forever ill at ease. The new thing, just now, is a widening belief that religion gives no help, or makes things worse. Polls show it. Falling participation in religious life underscores it. Nor has any Christian body found an easy formula for contesting this indifference and disdain.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/11640
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I found this article very interesting. There’s a lot I think is very true, the authors assessment of the cheap grace or prosperity taught in many churches robbing Jesus of His power of transforming the individual is so true. Also, the need to have smaller groups of Bible studying and fellowship is extremely important.

This article brings up some really good points. But where I disagree is in these main points.

  1. The drop in the churches influence and meme era is partly the fault of the church (I agree) but it’s also a failing of each individual member. The general commitment and involvement of each member is not where it needs to be. Many of us are just attending and not actively working for God.

  2. He mentions that giving more autonomy to congregations is biblical and would help give churches the freedoms to minister more effectively in their regions. However, take women’s ordination, in the NAD, it’s being carried forward in several conferences and there’s no consequence, so I don’t see how churches are being controlled to the point of destroying its ability to grow.

  3. I would argue that the areas of the world where the church is losing the most members is North America and Europe. This is also the areas that are most liberal in their theology. Could it be that the society’s in these areas are so “enlightened” and “prosperous” that they don’t see the need for God? Paul says to the Corinthians to look around and notice how the church didn’t have many “wise, noble, good named” people. But that God chose the low, poor, unlearned, because to the “wise” the studied, the gospel was foolishness. It’s a natural tendency of humanity to not feel our “need” of God when we’re studied and comfortable. Of course there are exceptions. But I think our society’s are so enlightened that they don’t need God. So they’re harder to reach.

I don’t think it’s the “control” that’s killing the church…because it’s exploding in other areas. I think it’s a combination of a very prosperous society combined with a secular culture, and a lukewarm church.

This article is super important to read and discuss because even if I disagree with all it points, the shrinking church is definitely a crisis!

The author seems to support the idea that unity in the church is automatically achieved when every member full-heartedly follows the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I used to agree from a theoretical point of view, but my empirical observations in real life tell me otherwise.

Let us look for example at the conflict on WO. Why is it necessary at all that the GC is repeatedly taking votes on that question? Well, it seems that the Holy Spirit has not united the church so far. But why?

Is it possible that the Holy Spirit is pro WO and con WO at the same time, teaching different things to different people? I cannot believe that.

Is it possible that roughly half of the church ignores the guidance of the Holy Spirit and then gets to the wrong conclusions? This explanation seems to be quite popular among many church members, but this way of thinking has severe consequences. It typically means that I put myself as a judge and devalue or even demonize the christian experience of my brethren. (Think for example of the unhealthy obsession of many adventists with the Roman Catholic church.) This way of thinking poisons the church community.

So, what other explanations are left for the observed disunity on WO?

Maybe the Holy Spirit thinks that voting in the GC is actually a better solution to achieve unity rather than him instructing each church member individually? Well, voting did not lead to unity, so this explanation fails as well.

Maybe the Holy Spirit simply does not care about WO? Well, this topic has created so much tensions in the church that it cannot be ignored by the Holy Spirit.

What do you believe is the reason for the observed disunity?

Found a personal application. Me with my church, with my family, with my Sabbath school class, with my team at work. Christ-centeredness is indeed other-centeredness. My prayer is that the HS would so empower me that I may have the mind of Christ in all these relationships and indeed live in Koinonia with everyone. I bookmarked this article for further study and sharing. Thanks for posting it.

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Just because there is a call to prayer before these decisions are made doesn’t mean we’re open to the answers. There are political (church politics) reasons why we manipulate the answers to our prayers as a group and maybe even personally.

I don’t know exactly why WO has to be such a problem except that large swathes of the denomination is socially backwards and doesn’t respect women, and can’t bring themselves to admit to the equality of the sexes - stifles the missions and the INCOME.

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I have a general question - if the church, as it’s defined by this “hierarchy”, isn’t following traditional Christian principles as defined in this article, why would we want to spread this theology along with the application of these sterile beliefs?

The only solution would be to scrap the 28+ and reduce the statements of faith to something more general and actually let the HS define how we personally respond do it. We don’t need some committee to decide what the Bible means and how I should respond. The whole Bible can be factored down to “love God and love your neighbor, and treat him/her as you would like to be treated.” If that’s not enough to direct our personal and corporate life, we haven’t been listening to the Spirit as it was lived out in the life and death of Jesus. Love has much to unpack, in case the SS quarterly is afraid it would run out “lesson studies”.

Our kids, once their frontal lobes begin to function, can easily see the disconnect between Jesus’ words and the way things are run, street level - (in case anyone is wondering why the young generation is leaving it all behind).

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It is possible that the Holy Spirit doesn’t care about “women’s ordination”. The more likely possibility though is that the Holy Spirit doesn’t particularly care about the Seventh-day Adventist church as a corporate entity and therefore doesn’t bother to manifest itself in the SdA political meetings to achieve consensus.

I’ve sat on various committees such as church boards, conference boards, college boards, conference sessions, nominating committees, etc. On tough issues where there were strong differences of opinions, never once has anything resembling the Holy Spirit intervened to move the committee to a decision where all, or even a majority, agreed that the decision was that of the Holy Spirit. I concluded that the Holy Spirit isn’t really concerned with Seventh-day Adventist Church politics.

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I have trouble with blaming “each individual member.” As with any group, our members in any congregation represent a diverse array of Christian growth stages and directions. Some are struggling with what has happened in their lives, be it abuse, grief, illness, shame, depression, or other forms of pain. Their relationship with God may be tenuous, but no less real and they struggle for understanding and peace. Others are so sure of the rightness of their beliefs that they have real trouble relating to those who have questions and are still growing in understanding. Others simply appreciate the society of church friends and refuse to think too deeply. Some may think very deeply and need to resolve some real issues of theology and how the church addresses said issues.

In any case, I believe the Holy Spirit is working with each of us, guiding and directing according to our needs and readiness to grow. Only God, the Trinity, can judge our hearts, motives, and spiritual growth. I think most of us will be surprised in eternity to see our entire journey and that of others.

I wish Chuck well as he leads the discussion. It should be interesting and spirited.

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Yeah I agree we’re all in a different place spiritually, emotionally, etc but that’s why each member matters so much. Because when one is weak and struggling, the other is there to lift and comfort etc. I didn’t mean that the church should expect every single member to be at the top of their spiritual experience at all times. But when we’re all committed and personally invested, the church would be very different. There are a lot of issues facing our church and I just think that when we talk and discuss how to improve, we shouldn’t only focus on exterior factors, we need to look at ourselves too and what we can change independent of exterior factors. It’s a good topic though!!

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I am surprised how little response there has been to Charles Scriven’s creative attempt to re-energize an increasingly moribund institution. I wish his ideas well.

It’s worth being reminded that the church is an American Church, not just in origin but it operates on the corporate American model. We can use religious terminology to characterize it otherwise, but if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck it’s probably a duck.

It would be like asking Jamie Dimon to dismantle the management at Chase and distribute the assets to shareholders. Not going to happen with or without the Holy Spirit.

I wish I was wrong.

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GKS is surprised by “how little response there has been to Charles Scriven’s creative attempt to re-energize an increasingly moribund institution.”

Let me risk the charge (at least, no doubt, partly warranted) of narcissism:

I am surprised, too. The essay is as fundamental as any critique could be of the Adventist organizational ethos. The argument is respectably (not infallibly) set forth. It summons Adventism to change and hope.

The responses here have been mainly sympathetic, and I am grateful for them. But as usual–mark this well–nothing from any scholar at the Seminary, nothing from the General Conference Biblical Research Institute. Nothing from anyone with establishment authority and the ability to take on and refute the argument, or perhaps agree with it.

This surely invites a worry about establishment Adventism’s slide into sheer indifference. Or resignation. Or job insecurity. Any one of these would be fatal to the church’s prospects.

But again, the narcissism bugaboo: Despite my own investment in it, the essay’s argument may be too trivial and misguided to merit a refutation, or any engagement at all, by the church’s intellectual insiders.

(We all have our insecurities. I do, too. And Yes, crybabies are disgusting.)

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“…nor any end to reasons for confessing that Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Given that Jesus himself penned absolutely none of the canon-to say nothing of the fact that it is impossible to conclusively establish Jesus ever existed, much less that he was god incarnate-the NT cannot be considered comprehensive, authoritative or accurately reflective of Jesus’ teachings. Thus, any attempt to live what Jesus might have considered a “Christ-centered” life according to an unauthorized compendium of miraculous anecdotes, alleged quotes and rambling missives about, but not sanctioned by the protagonist is perpetually problematic, at best, and an utter impossibility in the most absolute sense, if Jesus wasn’t “real”.

(The furtive effort to emulate a messiah who didn’t personally express his “good news” in written form has proven hard enough for the 35,000 divergent sects who insist that are the only “true” Christians. However, if Jesus never actually walked this planet, the task of living as he did is as impossible as attempting to take flight on a nonexistent magic carpet.)

So I disagree.

There is one very good reason to stop confessing that Jesus was somehow different from any other human or to believe that anyone who has ever lived is necessarily less a child of god than Jesus was. That reason being not only that this assertion is categorically refuted by an alternative but equally judicious reading of the gospels which we do have but, more importantly, the reality that each of us has the potential to be one with his maker can be confirmed, personally and by anyone, through the ongoing work of divine consciousness, AKA, the Holy Spirit.

And okay, call me a troll, a provocateur, or a purveyor of misinformation for expressing these facts. The site moderators can even cancel me on the grounds that I am not an Adventist or even a “proper” Christian, if they like.

The problem with any of that, however, is that I don’t accept that any of those unsubstantiated appellations apply to me, just as I don’t acknowledge any such detractors as my potential audience. In short, I don’t believe their assumptions and assertions about me anymore than I’m convinced that Paul née Saul necessarily had a better line of communication with Jesus and/or god than does my Boston Terrier/French Bulldog mix

Instead, I’m addressing some teenager in an SDA boarding school somewhere, who like myself, is sicken unto tears after having been trolled by EGW and her sycophants 24/7 for his entire life, or any other supposed “original sinner” who longs for a comprehensive respite from the incessantly self righteous edicts of Seventh Day Arrogance, in their over-arching specificity, and organized religion’s self-assumed superiority over secular philosophical discourse, in general.

My experience convinces me that while walking the path of skepticism about all such institutions, as well as maintaining doubt in all of their hierarchies, one can stumble upon the truism that the journey itself is the destination and that our creator, rather than existing as a quasi-anthropomorphic transcendent being in some pie-in-sky heaven, is an integral and ever present part of one’s ever evolving life process.

Having grown up as an Adventist and well versed in its culture have seen first hand the issues you described. The constant drum beat of self loathing and paranoia that we all experienced to one extent or another is sufficient to cause significant pain and suffering.

You have expressed that pain and doubt many of us have suffered through as well. I think you are understandably distressed about the suffering that kids continue to endure by misguided adults.

Many of us in this forum can relate and share much of your concern about the hypocrisy and absolutism the church promotes.

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