Oops! The Best of Intentions

We always celebrate protesters after the protest is over. In that moment, though, the people living through it find it hard to possess an appreciation for those who usher in change. Five centuries after penning his 95 Theses, Christians worldwide commemorate the heroic actions of theologian Martin Luther, which spawned the Reformation. Quite different from the dramatic nailing scene that has been captured in popular retellings, most Lutheran historians agree that it was likely a much quieter gesture at first. He wrote letters outlining his concerns to church leadership in private correspondence. It was after he was rebuffed that his outline of grievances was posted on the infamous church front door. Posted there, Luther’s treatise caught far more attention than his initial private attempts to convey his criticisms.

The news of Luther’s critiques created a spark that became a fire. His suggestions for church reform took on a life of their own—on a far larger scale than he had originally intended. You see, Luther was a Catholic. He wanted to stay a Catholic. He just wanted to help improve the Catholic church he loved. It was not his intention to become anything but a better Catholic. Instead he split the church. Oops!

This is a typical theme in history. After all, Christ was not a Christian. Neither were His disciples. They were Jews. The Apostles did not set out to be anything but Jews faithful to their heritage who proclaimed that the fulfillment of the Jewish Messianic prophecies had indeed come. Alas, despite their intentions, this “new light” to the faith created fissures that spawned a new religion entirely. At a point, a line was drawn: the followers of The Way were not Jews—they were Christians. But they had wanted to remain just Jews. They simply wanted to help bring the Good News to the Jewish faith they loved. It was not their intention to become anything but better Jews. Instead they split the faith. Oops!

Though they are esteemed ecclesiastical giants now, Luther, the Apostles, and even our Christ, were considered rabble rousers and trouble makers by their contemporaries. Why not leave well enough alone? No one asked them to “improve upon” or “give light to” anything or anyone. No one put out a suggestion box or solicited their thoughts. Remaining aligned with the tried and true ways of centuries gone by ought to have been good enough! Rarely are reformers readily embraced within their own time. Only decades and even centuries removed do we finally appreciate their bravery, contributions, and candor. And those who were, at the time, thought to be “defenders of the faith” are remembered as people who stubbornly opposed progress.

In 2017, there’s no shortage of protests for justice and equity and reform — both in our church and the wider social sphere. Contrary to what their opponents might say, the objectives of these would-be reformers usually aren’t motivated by nefarious schemes. They don’t want to cause schisms. The intention is to move forward in progress—unified progress. Yet if one part of the group (be it a church or even a nation) adamantly remains unmoved while the other presses forward, there will inevitably be a division.

No one welcomes division. It’s always looked at negatively. And it’s not something I endorse. At the same time, we must admit that obviously, God’s hand was in the forward momentum that created the Christian faith. And God was guiding the Reformation and birth of Protestantism. Present day reformers are again being called by God toward progress. As we look forward to the future of the Adventist church, we have a choice to learn from the past. How we apply history’s lessons to our current situation remains to be seen. The NAD President addressed his fellow leaders at the Fall Council noting, “We have no intention to split the church.” But who knows if will we march into the future united or will it be another “Oops”. Should Christ tarry, will the next generations tell our story beginning with the line, “There was no intention to split, but…”? And if that happens, is it possible that history will look at that moment of reformation with an appreciation that we in the present can’t yet possess?

Courtney Ray, MDiv, PhD is a clinical psychologist and ordained minister of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Previous Spectrum columns by Courtney Ray can be found at:

https://spectrummagazine.org/authors/courtney-ray

Image Credit: Wikipedia

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8361
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Reforming or changing an established church inevitably meets resistance from a. most leaders, b. the theologians aligned with them and c. the members who have been unquestioning and satisfied with the status quo. Had Ellen White not acquired her impressive authority by 1888, those two young men would have been ostracized and punished for what they dared to present. Their scholarship and biblical understanding was “new,” so must be erroneous. Watch out current church; things repeat themselves in history.

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Even religions get ossified.

More,particularly they get bureaucratized.

The list of members of the “UNITY “ committee comprises largely ELDERLY
and exclusively MALE BUREAUCRATS.

Not a recipe for forward, innovative, creative thinking nor advancement in Adventism.

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It’s a puzzle, isn’t it ? How we Adventists refer to ourselves as the ‘Remnant Church’, and yet attempt to model our ‘General Conference’ according to the majority – not the ‘remnant’ – vote ?

Of the 10 lepers who came as a ‘church’, as a ‘circle’, to Jesus for healing, only the dissenting ‘vote’ – the ‘remnant’ – was so grateful for what God had done for him through Jesus, that in his newborn fidelity (‘faith’) toward God – not toward the majority – he forgot himself :

“And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back,
and with a loud voice glorified God, And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks:
and he was a Samaritan.
And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine?
There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger.
And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole.”
Luke 17:15-19 KJV

Paul explained to the Roman, ‘Gentile’ church:

“Isaiah also cries out concerning Israel: [Isaiah 10:22]
“Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea,
The remnant will be saved. . . .
What shall we say then?
That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained to righteousness,
even the righteousness of faith;
but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness.”
Romans 9: 27 . . . 30,31 NKJV

The ‘oops’ ‘split’ of true reformers, then, is never an intentional move away from the majority of fellow sinners, but an intentional move toward God in appreciation of God’s gracious fidelity toward, even, infidels and ‘lepers’, such as myself.

Few people would gladly choose to stand alone against the overwhelming flow of the ‘majority’.
Few people would eagerly choose to be a lonesome ‘remnant’.

Rather it is the choice, the ‘majority vote’, of the unappreciative many – who coldly take God’s blessings for themselves and turn away from the warm pleasure of ‘gratitude’, as if they somehow deserved those blessings – that leaves a ‘remnant’ behind.

‘Remnant’ ‘reformation’ should be understood as the Creator-intended individual default setting of enjoying grateful fidelity toward a gracious God, and not merely an innovation craving acceptance by a ‘majority’ of sinners.

~ “Hain’t we got all the fools in town on our side?
And ain’t that a big enough majority in any town?” ~
Thought from, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain

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in the case of the split between the sanhedrin and jesus’ disciples, the sandhedrin was fresh off murdering the son of god, and were literally filled with satan…meanwhile the disciples had experienced pentecost, and were altogether filled with god…

in the case of the split between the catholic church and luther, leaders in the catholic church had lapsed into theological error so profound, they could sell forgiveness from sin for money without batting an eyelash…meanwhile luther had uncovered vital theological truth, buried for centuries, that aroused conscience, and clearly contrasted with this and other theological error that was rampant in his church…

in the case of any split in the adventist church, occasioned by WO, do we really have two sides so diametrically opposed, and evidently inspired by such clearly opposite spiritual forces, that union is impossible, or dangerous…actually we don’t…what we have are two sides subconsciously and possibly consciously influenced by cultures that simply do not overlap on the question of WO…that’s it…we don’t have one side inspired by satan, and the other side inspired by god…both sides could in fact be inspired by god…we know this because god worked with extreme headship individuals in the bible who were into polygamy and concubines, just as he worked with the very pro-WO example of egw…

what i think we may need to think about more is whether our church experience should reach beyond our own comfort level, and find ways to reach those not of our mindset…that is, do we, or do we not, need to find ways of feeling good about unity with people outside of our own culture, and is there virtue in making sacrifices for the sake of that unity…in n. america alone, there really are headship adventists…what does an uncompromising WO church experience do to make them feel blessed…and certainly in africa there must be at least a few WO adventists…what are headship adventists there doing to make WO sympathizers feel blessed, or even comfortable enough to come out of hiding…

i would say that if we split over WO, it’s tell-tale evidence that we aren’t fit to carry the three angels’ messages to the world…it may be the case that we can fulfill our gospel commission in our own backyards to those who are like us, and in agreement with us before we even talk to them…but obviously we’re useless to god with anyone who is in any way different from us…i don’t think this captures the kind of unconscious heroism that led to the splits between god’s people and the sanhedrin or the catholic church…in fact i think it’s downright pathetic…rather than assume any kind of mantle from christ’s disciples or luther in the event of a split, as this article suggests, we should be ashamed of ourselves…we should be taking ourselves to task that the possibility of a split in our church over a cultural matter is even in our minds…

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WO is just the tip of the iceberg. As with icebergs, the bigger problem is usually buried below the surface.

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Before dealing with details, let us take note of the dynamics involved and learn from developmental psychology. Growth and maturation is characterized by progression from one stage to another and is always preceeded by conflicts. What is important about conflicts is its resolution, not its prevention as conflicts are inevitable. As it is in parenting, the burden falls on parents to guide and rechannel the trajectory of children’s development. To demand no conflict from children is to stunt their growth. The same goes for organization and our church’s leadership have shown cognitive limitations, and exhibit short sightedness which requires changing of the guard, instead of splitting the church.

Once the stage is set up, then and only then can we talk about details. Which gives credence to Einstein’s mistakenly quote as saying “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.”

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Madison College, Nashville, TN.
Est 1904 BY ELLEN WHITE at the PROTESTS of Sutherland and Magan [who were on their way to North Carolina hills to start a very small school in one lonely mountain.
Ellen White picked out the land. It was the only institution she was part of the constituency.
ACTUALLY, the Self-Supporting work that Ellen began was definitely OPPOSED to the WAY the Organized Church did business.

SHE DID NOT ASK the GC President for PERMISSION to do this. Actually, nobody was contacted for permission. The effects of the Madison Program was felt throughout the WHOLE SDA CHURCH.

  1. Magan to Loma Linda after completing the Medical Degree program in Nashville [going back and forth on this motorcycle.]
  2. Benefactors of Madison College giving MONEY to Loma Linda to keep it going.
  3. The education on many missionaries who opened work in a number of countries. Students came from many countries and went back home.
  4. Promoted the opening of NEW WORK in the SouthEast united states.

Ellen’s messages to Madison, to Magan, to Sutherland are STILL encouraging persons to Gain The Vision and are basing their programs on those messages.

So Maverick Unions doing something different [like men and women equal as pastors] and other types of things is NOT NEW in the SDA Church.
AND would probably BE BLESSED BY Ellen White.

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Oh boy…are they ever! I’m sure Jeremy and I (and I’m guessing, you and Jeremy as well), would have iceberg sized disagreements over exactly what those bigger problems are.:sunglasses:

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However “once a heretic, always a heretic” seems to be the norm in Adventistism . I suspect that now there are significantly more SDA theologians whose beliefs align with Dr. Ford’s yet remain gainfully employed by the church. It may take awhile for the church to “celebrate” Dr.Ford’s accomplishments. After all, it wasn’t until the 21st century that the Roman Catholic Church removed Copernicus from his pauper’s grave and honored him by giving him a burial inside a cathedral.

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The fundamental problem is that Adventism dwells and preaches and rules under guilt not Grace.

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Thanks, Steve, for a little history and perspective. EGW was many things and one of them was definitely being a maverick and a bit of anti-Establishment. I think that both she and James would be quite sad to see the current state of things within Adventism right now.

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I muse at the fact that WO proponents cite examples of EGW’s “maverick” ways… let willfully ignore her God-inspired counsel:

“I have been shown that no man’s judgment should be surrendered to the judgment of any one man. But when the judgment of the General Conference, which is the highest authority that God has upon the earth, is exercised, private independence and private judgment must not be maintained, but be surrendered.” 3T p. 492.

Until provided with convincing evidence that this statement is false or is misapplied in this situation, there will be many, including myself, that view this WO issue as not of God.

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I don’t care if everyone but one, decides to leave God’s church. As long as what God’s church is teaching is what the Bible teaches, God’s church will never be divided. What has happened is that the others have left the Old Ship of Zion, and need to return or be lost. God’ church is always where God’s truth is being taught. And as long as God’s Word, Jesus Christ is in His church, then that is an undivided church.

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Brad O … I agree, as is often the case, snatching a line form Sister White’s writing as though it explains everything, let alone anything is fraught with danger. Her urging that we train thinkers, rather than reflectors of other men’s thoughts surely counters the suggestion that the quote you share means that truth is a matter of vote.

You’ll recall that she also points out the futility of changing minds by passing resolutions.

What we can rest assured by is that Sister White was for more than 70 years the incarnation of the presence of God among Seventh-day Adventists as they flung themselves into the impossible task of defining with certainty the past, let along the present and the future. Against all rationale possibilities, the band of Seventh-day Adventists grew from a handful to 100,000 by the time of her deal, still a church without a creed.

The denominational leadership has faithfully followed the vote of the General Conference and has never designated to Division’s the authority to introduce women’s ordination on their own vote.

So far, so good on that front.

[quote=“BradO, post:13, topic:14736”]
when the judgment of the General Conference, which is the highest authority that God has upon the earth, is exercised, private independence and private judgment must not be maintained, but be surrendered.

Perhaps you are unaware that when she later encountered a GC pres, who sounds a lot like our present pres to me, she repudiated that statement. Was she willfully ignoring her God-inspired counsel. (She abandoned a ton of positions that we find in the testimonies.) When we take any human’s statements to be God inspired, without a miraculous confirmation, we subordinate our individual priesthood to them. Furthermore, to yield our God-given judgment to a crowd of booing lackeys is beneath discussion.

This side of the cross, God simply does not delegate His authority over humans to other humans–whether individuals or organizations. Claims to the contrary have been causing mischief for eons.

Incidentally, those of us who strongly favor WO don’t care whether our church has women ministers or not. What we care about is the women who are called by the Holy Spirit but are prevented from responding.

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If the issue of WO isn’t really about WO but instead about the “calling” of the Holy Spirit then there really shouldn’t be an issue at all. Women, including EGW, have been called to serve and have. So can present day women… I have female relatives that felt a calling and currently accept that calling and serve. So why is this a hot button issue? To my knowledge, Ted Wilson isn’t against women responding to the Holy Spirit and serving… The fact of the matter is, there is a strong sense of “gender inequality” that supporters of WO have… it’s not as simple as the ability to respond to a calling.

I am interested in learning about the EGW retraction of her own statement regarding the GC. If you would be so kind, please provide me with your source. I’d like to read it.