The Body Isn't Perfect

If you use Facebook regularly, you know each day it shares a "memory" from the past. Apparently it was a year ago that I sat at a table with four friends from college. One is a committed Adventist married to a pastor. One couple admitted that the church they regularly attended was "the last stop on the way out of the denomination". One had left a few years ago and decided to go to a church that worshiped on Sunday because she felt that where she worshiped now, she was in a place that she could grow closer to God. She felt that she could use her gifts more in this new church. As we sat at dinner and heard their stories, I felt sad. I didn't feel sad for them, but I felt sad for our church. We keep losing gifted and beloved members from our denomination because they felt that they needed to be in a place that they could be used. And I was also sad because I know that our denomination as a whole doesn't look at it that way. When people leave, no matter what the reason, it's almost always framed as "apostates" backsliding.

Over a year ago, I read an article where a young lady poured her heart out explaining why she believed she needed to make the decision to leave our denomination. She laid out how difficult that choice was for her and her husband and their attempts to stay. Yet regardless of her rationale, these deep considerations fall on dead ears. I read comments where individuals lambasted her for not really being serious about the Lord, for being selfish, or being spiritually immature.

Even ministers are not immune from this criticism. Full disclosure, I've met Ron Gladden once. But I heard a lot about him before ever looking him in the eye. Despite being a dedicated evangelist serving the North American Division for decades, he was made out to be a pariah. For those not familiar with the story from over a decade ago, I'll give the Cliff Notes version. Gladden's love for the church led him to propose an alternative to the current church structure. But even a celebrated North American Division church planting leader can't persuade leadership to redirect a behemoth of an organization as large as our church. Frustrated, he followed his conscience and started a parallel organization. Same doctrines--different structure. Although leaving had never been his goal. However that wasn't the word on the street. During the time of Mission Catalyst's inception, I was a seminarian. Students were told that Gladden was leaving the church because he wanted to start his own offshoot denomination. We were warned that if any of us affiliated ourselves with him, we would be blacklisted. Who cares what the reasons for leaving were! Anyone who leaves the church must simply be a heathen who is not dedicated to Christ.

One of the most dangerous--yet most ubiquitous-- beliefs that is repeatedly touted is that our church is the "Ark of safety". This phrase alludes to the biblical story of Noah's Ark. This awful nomenclature leads people to believe that those inside are safe while those outside are doomed. There is no alternative place to go. Those who leave do so at their own peril. They are foolhardy and are acting based on the recalcitrance of their hearts. Additionally, if we are THE Ark, then we are beyond criticism.

I'd rather use the biblical analogies for church found in the I Corinthians 12: a body. Sometimes our bodies don't work the way they should. But if your body isn't functioning well, noticing and attending to that sore spot is seen as CARING for your body and being responsible…Not as betraying it. If there is pain, ignoring it doesn't help heal the hurt. And one would never accuse someone trying to address sickness in the body of not loving the body simply because they have acknowledged that the body is not perfect. We recognize what is wrong and we try to help it. If we adopt the mindset that those who love the body may also sometimes see things with changing about the body, we would be less defensive. Instead, in many cases, people have been forced out of our churches and branded as disloyal because they sought change.

People may love the Lord and even agree with our doctrine, but feel that they cannot truly fulfill what God desires of them within the confines of our present structure. Instead of demonizing those who leave let's listen to the critiques--painful as they may be to hear--the body isn't perfect. But recognizing that may be the key to a healthier, stronger body than ever before.


Courtney Ray is a native New Yorker who ministers in the Greater Los Angeles Region. She is an ordained pastor serving in Southern California Conference.

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Hi Courtney, Your article is quite refreshing with the body analysis. I left in 1981 after not being interviewed for a pastoral position because of my GENDER, not because of my qualifications. I knew then that God didn’t operate like that and didn’t want to associate with a church that didn’t reflect true love to all.

Funny thing is that the SDA church is supposed to be all about health. They have medical schools, and many careers in the medical field. Yet, they rely on Big pHarma for most of their treatments, mostly because there is a billing code for them. Yet, if one ventures out into natural health alternatives, you are very much frowned upon! I know because I do use alternative treatments and have been highly criticized for it. Yet, natural remedies do much less harm than pharmaceuticals and chemo and radiation. So why did the church (business) decide to side with remedies that treat the symptoms rather than look for the source and cure people. Because that is where the $$$$$$ are!

Going outside of the structure is seen as taking away from “supporting” the church when in fact, I think the church has now become an organization/business that only cares about the running and proliferating of the church, and not being Christians with the simple message of love for all like Jesus preached. I remember Bailey Gillespie talking about that when I was in college and how we had to stay relevant to keep people coming to church. My brother, Paul Coneff, wrote a paper about it in grad school at LSU. Yet, no matter how many times relevant studies show the need to change and grow, it is ignored.

So I say, BRAVO to those who leave! They are following their spiritual path. And they only have to answer to one person, and it is not an organization/business like the SDA church. I think when things get so big, we forget our beginnings and lose our soul to try and sustain the whole. I don’t think we need a big whole. We need what was in the original churches, small meetings in homes, where the connection is relevant and alive. It is why I love Kinship. Although the SDA church doesn’t like it because they think the LGBTIQ community are sinners/wrong/evil/of the devil, I find them to be the most accepting place in Adventism. Although the church doesn’t want to be associated with them, these are people who want to be SDAs or be with SDAs because of culture and history because there is love there! Acceptance and caring.
Charles ?? can’t remember his name now, but he was one of my teachers and we started a small church and it was glorious. I think we miss the mark greatly when we are so big.
Okay, have lots to do today, but your article sparked something in me that led me to write this essay, which was just meant to be a comment. Thanks for such a loverly article. Keep preaching it! The church needs it! Marygrace Coneff~


Courtney, I’m interested in why you think considering the Seventh-day Adventist church an “Ark of safety” is one of the “most dangerous beliefs.”

Dangerous in what way?


@Harry_Allen - thanks. I’m not Cassandra-of-Perelandra, but I play her on Spectrum. I’m wondering what the specific “danger” is. What could possibly go wrong here…?

@cfowler - regarding “terrible spiritual danger” - what does that mean? Thanks.


Scripture presents Jesus Christ as the “Ark of Safety”, not any church organization. All those who “call upon the name of the Lord” will be saved. The Pharisees felt safe inside the walls of Jewish beliefs and Rabbinic teachings. Jesus came to break down the partition wall between Jew and Gentile. After the cross, the Jews still believed that they alone possessed the “truth” of God. Some church organizations and individuals believe that they alone possess “the truth” and all those outside of their belief structure are dammed. History often repeats itself. Rene G.


Thanks, Cassie. (I’m not Courtney, but I play her on TV.)

It’s dangerous because it’s not true, first of all. Falsity is always dangerous.

It’s also dangerous because it’s not biblical; it accords the SDA organization a role that it cannot support from the Bible.

Finally, as ReneAGale says so well, above, Christ is the ark; the ship. Ecclesiastical bodies that imagine themselves having divine prerogatives are inevitably bound for trouble.



'Nuff said!

False and unbiblical…which leads to spiritual danger.

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Most people have some sort of religion, at least they know which church they’re staying away from. Every dogma has its day.

without a doubt there are Christian pastors within Adventism. yet the Fundamental beliefs places the Church above Christ. In this they are not unique. thus,for me, the best answer is to find A Christain pastor regardless of denominational ties. I want food not dogma. Even a former General conference officer and a retire Union Conference president found the Augusta SDA church dead wood. We remain close friends. Tom Z