On History, Memory, and a Missionary Spirit

Transformation and change are the themes of this week’s Adult Bible Study Guide. In Ephesians, as well as complementary passages in Colossians, Paul instructs his listeners to do away with their sinful behaviors and take on the characteristics of a God-driven life instead. The message is illustrated by the metaphor of dirty clothing, discarded in favor of fresh garments and a new outlook on life. 

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://spectrummagazine.org/sabbath-school/2023/history-memory-and-missionary-spirit

[quote=“spectrumbot, post:1, topic:25002”]
“the missionaries must allow the biblical absolutes to determine the new teachings and practices of the converts”
[/quote]… and of course the missionaries know exactly what the biblical absolutes are, for every person, in every place, in every century - right? No. The missionary would be better off saying “I can’t tell you what the biblical absolutes are for you in your culture, in this place, at this time”. Even the early church had trouble determining what the requirements would be: “just abstain from blood, avoid things which were dedicated to idols, avoid fornication and anything which has been strangled”. Just as they had to figure out what would work, so do we. As usual, the SS Quarterly just throws out these authoritative one-liners so everyone can check their brains at the door.



From the Teacher’s Commentary:
—> In a 1992 article in Ministry magazine, Børge Schantz (1931–2014), a celebrated Seventh-day Adventist missiologist, proposed three guiding principles of contextualization for the Seventh-day Adventist approach to cross-cultural mission:

First, the cross-cultural missionary must correctly understand the biblical stories and teachings in their original context.
Second, the cross-cultural missionary must accurately distinguish between universal biblical teachings and their principles and his or her own cultural values and experience. Though these customs must be, or may be, contextualized, biblical principles, such as the Sabbath, cannot be compromised.
Third, the cross-cultural missionary must develop a genuine and profound interest in, and understanding of, the culture of the people whom he or she serves.

When all these elements are taken into consideration, the ultimate contextualization principle is that, while demonstrating sensitivity to various elements of the local culture, the missionaries must allow the biblical absolutes to determine the new teachings and practices of the converts.

Schantz shared a “note of warning” to the leaders of Seventh-day Adventist mission and evangelism: “Christian churches are tempted to lose hold of pure doctrine and objective ethics when they accept uncritically that God’s Word is always and at all places culturally and historically related. The contextualization process definitely raises some problems. Adapting biblical teachings to the cultures of the world will bring the communicator into contact with elements that are false, evil, and even demonic. The sad result of going too far is a damaging syncretism, forcing opposing religious elements to coexist.”

For this reason, Schantz concluded: “In all cultures, including our own, there are customs condemned by the gospel, and what is rejected by the Scriptures must be rejected by the missionaries and national leaders.” However, this principle does not need to make us more insensitive to the innocent culture of the local peoples. Rather, Schantz prayed that “the Lord of mission must grant us wisdom to differentiate between universals that must be proclaimed worldwide and the optional variables of Western culture.”“One Message—Many Cultures: How Do We Cope?” Ministry, June 1992, p. 11.

Missionaries have always had a bad reputation, whether it be Europeans into Africa. or Americans anywhere else. Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness takes it to its worst.

Adventism is very much an American religion, and Americans are very much naive when it comes to understanding global cultures. Back in the fifties the book that caused much consternation among the diplomatic crowd, The Ugly American pretty much summed it up. On a more comedic level, there is a line in Mash, when Alan Alda quips, “Just speak slower and use your hands.” when dealing with the Koreans who don’t know English.

Adventism, at its core, is part of the “gospel” it takes to the world. The “dark day” and the “falling of the stars” are biblical signs of the end, even though they just occurred basically over the state of Maine. We expect the Samoans and the Mongolians to be awed by it even though the average Samoan or Mongolian has no idea where Maine is. So its no wonder American Adventism teaches the little African kids to sing American songs as proof Adventist evangelism is working all over the world - and maybe it is, who knows…

I know.

It doesn’t.

Adventism has been adding members to its club by condescendingly evangelizing people they look down on for almost a century.

That these converts have no idea what they’ve signed up for started to be made clear when WO came to a vote and is becoming even more obvious as LGBTQ+‘s press for equal treatment in society and in the church…

American Adventism’s, as you put it, attempts to impose its absolutes on South America and Africa has backfired and the fact that it is no longer “one denomination” is as obvious as the oceans that separate the world’s continents.


Arguably, Adventist missions in the Philippines is one of most successful. By and large, in my opinion, the islands was blessed with exceptionally gifted and culturally sensitive pioneer missionaries and their successors. I’m deeply grateful for their combined, dedicated service.

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