The Call to Discipleship: Missionaries of Every Shape and Flavor

(Spectrumbot) #1

Sabbath School commentary for discussion on Sabbath, April 25, 2015

Across a span of 6 chapters (Luke 5 to 10), Luke describes Jesus’ call to his disciples: Peter, James, and John, summoned from their fishing nets (5:1-11), Levi Matthew from the tax booth (5:27-31), and the twelve from among a much larger group of followers (6:12-16).

In this same section of his book, Luke also tells how Jesus sent his disciples out into the world: the twelve drove out demons and healed the sick (9:1-6), going “from village to village, proclaiming the good news and healing people everywhere” (9:6, NIV). Jesus also sent out seventy-two others with the mandate to enter “every town and place where he was about to go” (10:1). These “returned with joy and said, ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name’” (10:17).

Notable among the successful missionaries were tax collector (Levi) Matthew (6:15) and traitor Judas (6:16). Yes, Luke does not hesitate to name Judas the betrayer as one of Jesus’ emissaries. Won’t it be remarkable to meet in the kingdom those who credit Judas Iscariot as the one who healed them or brought them to Jesus?

In short, Jesus’ missionaries were a motley bunch, drawn from a host of different backgrounds and gifted with a wide variety of talents. All of which suggests a tantalizing point of departure for this commentary on the Sabbath School lesson. Could we not learn from those who have stepped back from active involvement in the Adventist movement, but who still see themselves as whole-hearted followers of Jesus? And could we not learn from those voices from within the church which preserve crucial slivers of truth, but which are often perceived as detracting from the work of the mainstream church?

I have chosen three representative “Adventists” to make my point. I could multiply examples, but three are enough.

1. Devout Adventist, but not a formal member of the church: Desmond Ford. Ford sparked an enormous firestorm in Adventism at an Adventist Forum meeting on October 27, 1979, at Pacific Union College. Without mentioning names, he referred to a number of devout Adventist scholars who have held to the position that “there is no biblical way of proving the investigative judgment.”

Though the church removed Ford’s ministerial credentials he has remained a devout Sabbath keeper. And he retained his membership in the Pacific Union College Church until he moved back to Australia. At that point he resigned his membership rather than face the inevitable turmoil of attempting a transfer to a local church in Australia.

Ford is credited by many with restoring the doctrine of righteousness by faith to Adventism. But his approach was unique. Rather than addressing the “problem” of perfectionism by focusing directly on justification/sanctification issues, he used eschatology as his primary tool.

My own approach to the issues differs from Ford’s in key respects. Rather than reject the investigative judgment, I reinterpret it in the light of Ellen White’s later writings. Thus I see myself standing before God, not as the accused, but as a witness. I also define my relationship to the Father in terms of family, not courtroom. When asked if I am saved, I simply say that the question is not relevant since I am one of God’s children. Family provides a different kind of security than a courtroom. Both the family and the courtroom models are biblical, but we are not drawn to them in any consistent pattern.

While traditional “historic Adventists” are much troubled by Ford’s theology, those Adventists attracted to “the truth-about-God” perspective popularized at Loma Linda University by Graham Maxwell and Jack Provonsha often are also less than enthusiastic about his approach. Rooted in John 14-17 where Jesus presents the Father to us, rather than presenting us to the father as in the courtroom model, the truth-about-God theology rarely mentions substitution. Some of its adherents actually polemicize against it.

While substitutionary theology is not my “home” theology, I have grown to appreciate its insights into human nature. And it seems to me that it is unmistakable in passages like Romans 8 and 2 Corinthians 5. My question is: Can we not rejoice in the positive insights which Ford has brought into Adventism? Can we not affirm his strengths without attacking his weaknesses?

2. Devout Adventist, but viewed with suspicion by many in the church: Graham Maxwell.Driven by the powerful truths of John 14-17 (e.g. “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father”), Maxwellian theology presents a very gentle God and exerts a strong appeal to many multi-generational Adventists. It has come under fire not only because the church does not readily recognize the value of diverse theological perspectives, but also because some of the more extreme supporters of this Johannine theology actually attack substitutionary theology.

But if we can make room in the church for Ford, shouldn’t we do the same for Maxwell? Even though his theology is viewed with suspicion by many in the church, it has also been a blessing to many. Though Maxwell himself is no longer with us, his theology lives on in a handsome volume of essays edited by Dorothee Cole. Entitled Servant God: The Cosmic Conflict Over God’s Trustworthiness, it was published by Loma Linda University Press in 2013.

Having mentioned both Ford and Maxwell, I should also note that one of my good friends in Britain, a devout Adventist, is an avid supporter of both Graham Maxwell and Desmond Ford, both of whom would be unsettled at such a blend. But I suspect it happens more often than we realize, illustrating the truth of that remarkable quotation from Ellen White, “Our understanding of truth, our ideas in regard to the conduct of life are not in all respects the same. There are no two whose experiences are alike in every particular”(Ministry of Healing, 483).

3. Former Adventist: Dale Ratzlaff. I list Ratzlaff under Adventism, not because he affirms it, but because he rejects it and the Sabbath so emphatically. Through his Life Assurance Ministries Ratzlaff doggedly markets his industrial-strength ex-Adventism to his former church. The Proclamation people are devout evangelicals, to be sure, but their primary identity is ex-Adventist. They regularly sponsor conferences specifically for ex-Adventists.

While Proclamation theology simply represents a more extreme form of substitutionary theology, the same impulse that drives Ford, the Proclamation people emphasize the sovereignty of God and tenaciously affirm the inerrancy of Scripture, on both counts, preserving something that should be important for Adventists. Our hard-driving free-will perspective has led us away from a proper understanding of God’s majestic sovereignty. Maybe Ratzlaff and company could help us recover that important biblical perspective. And while I cannot support the doctrine of inerrancy, I do believe the Proclamation people preserve an important insight that we would do well to heed, namely, the danger that critical analysis can undermine faith and worship. In numerous conversations with the Proclamation people, my attempts to defend Adventism by noting parallels in the writings of Ellen White invariably triggers a stock answer: “Don’t you tear down my Bible to save Ellen White.” Intuitively they sense that the same methods they use to dismantle Ellen White’s authority could also undermine the authority of Scripture and diminish our ability to worship God.

Now in my experience, analyzing the writings and experience of Ellen White has helped preserve the authority of Scripture and I have attempted to develop a model for “inspiration” that supports a high view of Scripture without inerrancy. But such a position is a high-maintenance one, not readily accepted by non-pietists. And it is solidly rejected by the Proclamation people. Nevertheless, their resistance to the use of modern critical tools reminds me of a truth spoken by P. T. Forsyth, a well-known preacher from the early 20th century: “I do not believe in verbal inspiration. I am with the critics in principle. But the true minister ought to find the words and phrases of the Bible so full of spiritual food and felicity that he has some difficulty in not believing in verbal inspiration” (Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind [1907], 38; Eerdmans reprint, 26).

I hope we can listen carefully to even our most difficult critics, for they preserve points that deserve attention. And we all put the pieces together in such different ways. If we are going to be faithful to the team-building model which Luke suggests for us, we should open the gates wide, building a tent big enough to hold as many of God’s children as possible. I suspect Jesus would be pleased.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

(Thomas J Zwemer) #2

What a lucid, honest, charitable, and candid review of the tensions within Adventism. Honesty and kindness should be the outcome of a redemptive understanding of the Christ event. Regardless of ones view of Adventism from within or from without, one can learn much from Alden. thank You. Tom Z

(le vieux) #3

It is unfortunate that Ratzlaff and his entourage seem to have no other purpose than to attack the SDA Church and convince people to leave it. Even non-Adventists write in and complain about their negative approach. Somehow I got on their mailing list. I used to read the magazine, but time after time it’s the same tired old rhetoric; the same misrepresentation and distortion of SDA doctrine. But, I’m sure that those who attack our doctrines here might find it interesting.

(Thomas J Zwemer) #4

I don’t think that Proclamation is a positive vehicle. But neither is the Review. The both have a history of presenting dogma that is strained. Both treat theology as a subset of politics. We are commissioned as sower of Good News of what God in Christ has accomplished. Recruitment is not our task. Grace compels civility but human passion is ever present. Zeal in one is often viewed as hostility in another. Glacier View, what a lovely spot to gain such a reputation. Tom Z

(Garnett Weir) #5

"Notable among the successful missionaries were tax collector (Levi) Matthew (6:15) and traitor Judas (6:16)."
Where would I find Judas 6.16? Matt. 6: 15 also does not appear relevant to the context.


Who wrote the commentary?

(jeremy) #7

garnett, i think you may be misreading alden’s references…he is discussing texts in the book of luke…therefore “Matthew (6:15) and traitor Judas (6:16)” are both references to texts in luke…that is, we find matthew listed in luke 6:15, and judas in luke 6:16…

(Garnett Weir) #8

You are right Jeremy. Thanks.

(Elaine Nelson) #9

If only this had been the response to Ford and Maxwell originally! The defamation and defrocking of Ford will forever be a stain on the church for its drastic method of attempts to quiet a man of God who was willing to show us a different perspective.

The same goes for Maxwell. Why has the church persecuted its own? Until the church can be more kind and gracious (one of Maxwell’s favorite words) it will still be opposed to any new revelation and understanding that does not agree with the church’s Fundamental Beliefs as sacred tradition not to be touched except by an appointed committee to “study” for another quarter or more century. With this method, all progress is doomed.

(Thomas J Zwemer) #10

we all are part of one world, we are are made from the same clay. we all are under the same condemnation, we all have one Redemeer,. therefore we should all rejoice in one fellowship. Neither time nor creed should separate us. It was the most religious men of all time who crucified our Lord. Let us not repeat that horror.What I have heard and read over the past 4 years has been a equal share of boasting and lament Which is it? My life is at eventide yet my courage and faith is strong. I serve and now wait upon my Lord and Savior. I highly recommend it. Tom Z

(Edwin Racine) #11

It seems Alden could have included himself along with Maxwell and Provonsha in that some chief elders have negatively castigated him, quite unfairly, I’ll add. In those instances, or so it seems to me, some have, rather than given these great Adventist theologians thoughtful consideration, simply have gone along with the corporate gossip undertow.
Recently, I read an article written by a Catholic historian who stated, paraphrasing, there really wasn’t much difference between Catholicism and Protestantism, in that when the Founding Fathers of Protestantism left Catholicism they took with them two founding pillars; the transfer of the hallowedness of the seventh day to the first and secondly, St. Anselm’s penal substitution model of salvation.
Thankfully, the founders of Adventism, through biblical and historical research, focused on the counterfeit transfer. We along with many other apostate protestant communities have failed to show how Anselm’s erroneous theology evolved up through Catholicism to become what it is today.
Anselm’s feudalistic notion is accepted when we circumvent the trust, healing, revelatory, exemplary teachings of Jesus Christ. Sadly, the corporate church, thanks to its Biblical Research Institute’s closed-mindedness, has been greatly surpassed by many others who are definitively showing how Anselm’s thesis simply does not make much sense, or so it seems to me.

(Tihomir Odorcic) #12

So far I can remember Desmond Ford issue back in eighties of 20th century, the Church had rather wanted to save her tradition, may it be erroneous, than accept the “present(ed) truth”. They were speaking about “pillars” of the foundation of Adventism. It hurts me when I think about that great and humble theologian and the injustice inflicted to him only for the sake of preserving the tradition. In a very sad manner it resembles the case of Martin Luther and his Roman Catholic Church.

(Elaine Nelson) #13

You read something new every day. I had never before heard that the “Founding Fathers of Protestantism” took with them the transfer of the halowedness of the seventh day to the first"

Where in the history of the Christian church were Protestants observing the Jewish Sabbath? Where and when did such a transfer take place? Or is that a very loose paraphrase?

(Thomas J Zwemer) #14

while I fully appreciate the candor of this essay, I still find it troubling that the key criteria remains the Sabbath and not Christ. Adventism just can’t seem to get rid of that albatross. Righteousness by Faith carry no baggage. One of the most compelling commentaries is John Stott’s commentary on Galatians, Inter Varsity Press. It is a must read for any serious student of Scripture. Tom Z

(Elaine Nelson) #15

It will never change as long as it is in the official church name. A grave mistake to make that a “pillar” of the church when Christ has always been the foundational pillar, not day. Another “pillar” has been identified as the 1844 I.J. What fragile pillars on which to build Christ’s church when Christ beeomes secondary.

(Steve Mga) #16

Judas was among the 12 sent out.
Judas would have been among the 70 sent out.


This concept is not that hard to discover. I come from a spiritual environment that is familiar with the “Westminster Confession of Faith” where we learned the transfer doctrine. Those familiar with the 4th commandment spin from “Calvin’s Institutes of Religion” know about the contrast of his persuasion too .

IS 56:6 and Acts 13:44 counters both and any other antinomian, sabbatarian abrogation heresy.



I find it very hard to rinse out the institutional after taste out of my mouth on the overemphasis of this too. Every Sabbath when I am greeted by…“happy Sabbath”…I want to say …“Jesus is Lord” …as well

I hear it so much in mission reports about individuals being baptized into the Adventist church instead of individuals joining the body of Christ or become part of the family of Jesus.

The groupie stuff just turns me off.

(Elaine Nelson) #19

Sorry, but I see nothing in the texts you gave that support in the least your theory of "abrogation heresy. Can you give a better explanation than two separate texts, one from the Hebrew prophet and the other from the NT.

(Steve Mga) #20

At Synagogue services each Friday night [and sometimes on Sabbath holy days] with my Jewish friend, I am greeted with Shabbat Shalem, and return the greeting.
It is meant with earnestness and not in a flippant way. The same when I say Happy Sabbath to someone. It is sincerely meant.