Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday on the calendar. As a society we spend so much time focusing on the negative, focusing on what makes us different. We have just come out of an election that at least seemed as divisive as ever. Thanksgiving gives us a day to step back and be thankful for all of the many blessings that God gives us. I am certainly thankful for my family, my friends, and for the successes that God has engineered in my life throughout the past year. My heart and prayers also go out to those who have had tragedy meet them at some point over the last year. But I am also grateful for Adventism. When I look over the broad sweep of Adventism, as it was and as it is, the one thing I am thankful for is that Adventism is inherently progressive.
Some may want to argue that religion should not be “progressive,” but that is simply a matter of definition. By progressive I mean that a denomination cannot and should not move beyond what we already understand to be settled biblical doctrine. I know there are at least some other denominations (Catholicism and Baptists for example) that are struggling with this issue as well. The argument goes something like this – People who seek to make the church more progressive are pulling us away from our Biblical roots. The ideas that they present are an impermissible step away from the tried and true word of God. These concepts will eventually lead to the apostasy of this denomination and the unique message that God has given us will be ruined. If we accept these new ideas, we will be unfaithful to the sacred trust that God has given us. We need to stay with the knowledge that we are sure of and not venture off into uncharted waters.
Some may think that I am setting up a straw man here, but I disagree. It is incredibly easy for Christian denominations to want to be rigid. After all, we all think we’re right exactly where we are both ideologically and theologically. And yet if there’s one thing that is true is that Christianity is constantly changing. I started thinking about this because of a truism that a professor in my doctoral program expressed. In talking about the history of religion he said (and I paraphrase), “We’re not doing Christianity and religion the way it was done 2000 years ago. We’re not doing Christianity the way we did it 200 years ago, or 100 years ago. Imagine what Christianity will be and what we’ll be doing 100 or 200 years from now. We would be appalled by what they will be doing and they will think we’re backwards, just like the early church would be appalled at what we have become, and we look back on the issues of the early church as ignorant.” Some of you may take umbrage with the way my professor expressed the thought, but you have to admit that Christianity over the years has been progressive. That’s just true. We don’t do things the way they were done in the past. We have discovered new ideas, and we have had to deal with new circumstances, situations, and problems. Why would we ever think that the process of growth would not continue throughout time?
A professor from Andrews Seminary saw the same issue similarly. He described the process as two moves going on within every church. There is a downward move that leads us away from where God would have us to go. In addressing this type of move Paul says, “Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you.” Or, “As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ…” John addresses the issues this way. “And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, that you should walk in it. For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh; this is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward. Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son.”
At the same time, there is an upward move occurring in the church as well. The church does actually move forward. (Or at least it’s supposed to.) Prov. 4:18 says that, “the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, that shines brighter and brighter until the full day.” So even as there is a downward move, there is an upward move as the light that we walk by increases. For those of you who like EGW, she says that, "We should not allow a day to pass without gaining an increase in knowledge in temporal and spiritual things. We are to plant no stakes that we are not willing to take up and plant farther on, nearer the heights we hope to ascend." Christianity is meant to be progressive. We are supposed to grow; we are supposed to get better even as we guard against straying away from the path that God has set before us. The very nature of Christianity is that we are progressing, trying to perfect being a disciple of Christ. How that can be accomplished if you’re not willing to move from what you know is beyond me to explain.
It seems to me that the spirit of progression is alive and well in Adventism especially over the course of the last year. There are elements of the church that are progressing on the issue of gender equality. There are people in the church who are becoming more honest and open about the way we treat the LGBT community and seeing a need for improvement. We are progressing on issues like education, religious liberty, racism, and styles of worship. Interestingly enough, the spirit of progression is at the very foundation of the Adventist faith. The denomination was started by those who felt the need to progress beyond the religious understanding of their time, and the doctrine of present truth is a living testament to the idea that our understanding of what is true and right grows as we continue to seek Christ. This year I am thankful that Adventism is a faith where some still seek to be better, to draw closer to Christ, plant new stakes in the ground, and ascend to higher heights.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/4892