The GC Says “Uplift Jesus.” Say What?


(Spectrumbot) #1

Planet Earth is laced with all kinds of electronic signals. Can you imagine what someone might think about our society by listening to the audio traffic that floats across our airwaves?

“Good evening, we have a lot to get to—. More indictments and guilty pleas coming down today from the Robert Mueller investigation and another school shooting—. Good evening, I’m Chris Matthews, —let’s play hardball—.”

“Bravo 34, respond to a 10-32 at 1236 Becklin Avenue—. Shots fired. Sierra 14, respond with Bravo 34.”

“Yes, thanks for taking my call. I think the corrupt Democrats are just making up all kinds of lies against our President—. He is the leader of the free world and the fake news media just needs to stop all these false reports and to let him do his job—.”

“Hey it’s me. Just to follow up on our conversation—. I feel like we should develop some guidelines to help administrators evaluate who is loyal to the church, and help us to identify non-supporting ministries—. I know you’re preaching tomorrow but—. Well, —just an idea for you to think about—. Okay, have a blessed Sabbath, I’ll see you Monday.”

“Hi Fran, this is Dr. Richardson’s office. We have the results on the lab work—. We need to see you right away, so let us know.”

“Houston, we have a problem—.”

We have a problem alright, but Houston is not going to help. In a world of violence, dissension, and chaos, thought leaders and policy makers search for elusive answers to problems that earlier generations never envisioned.

The universal watchword seems to be safety: safety for our schools, safety for our streets, safety for our country. And who threatens our safety? North Korea? Russia? Iran? China? Perhaps. But we are ever more aware that most of the threats come from within society. Violence permeates our popular culture and yet we are dismayed when these very scenarios are acted out in real time, with real weapons and real victims. Stricter laws and harsher punishments have not stemmed the tide of crime and violence flooding our streets. It is a sad day when we have to admit to the rest of the world that we are actually debating who is eligible to buy an assault weapon. It is astounding that our police officers feel the need to get vehicles and weapons intended to be used in war and roll them out onto our streets just to keep the peace. But this reality greets us every day.

As Christians, we are not immune to the same dissensions and unrest that plagues secular society. The words from the Apostle John take on a renewed sense of urgency. In panoramic vision, the entire destiny of the world is revealed to the aging prophet. Overwhelmed by the scenes played out before him, John cries out, “Even so Lord, come quickly—.”

While people of faith have always looked forward to the culmination of God’s plan of restoration, they have also wrestled with the prospect of making a positive difference for the here and now. But there has been a slow, evolutionary shift in the way Christians envision their mission. Early Christians concentrated on winning converts by demonstrating in concrete terms God’s love for mankind. Christianity commissioned itself to change the way people viewed God and in turn, the way people related to each other. But in modern Christianity, the task of conversion has been supplanted in part by more aggressive tactics designed to bring unbelievers into submission. In the place of persuasion, Christianity is growing more comfortable with forced compliance through religious legislation.

Bart D. Ehrman, a prominent historian of Christianity, did an interview with NPR’S Terry Gross in which he asserted that what distinguished Christianity from pagan religions was the belief that there was only ONE pathway to God’s acceptance. That pathway was to acknowledge the death and resurrection of Jesus, a little known Teacher from Galilee. Ehrman points out that Christianity is the first religion in history to emphasize conversion. Jews were not known for proselytizing, and people who practiced pagan religions often accepted a new deity, but would not need to renounce their faith in gods they previously held in esteem. In Ehrman’s view, Christianity took on a different nuance by asserting that their beliefs were exclusively true, while all other religious persuasions were patently false and led people straight to the fires of hell.

Growing out of a handful of believers, the Christian religion gained over 300 million converts in just 400 years. As the movement grew, so did the need for structure and organization. Small gatherings of like-minded Christians gave way to large councils determined to govern the church and cull out false teachers. Written creeds summarized and codified beliefs. A Christian movement turned into a Christian empire; complete with the power of secular governments at its beck and call. Dissenters were identified, targeted, and persecuted. Still carrying the name of Christ, Christianity drifted very far away from anything that Jesus taught.

Despite a course correction brought by the Protestant Reformation, I believe that the Christian faith today is dangerously close to repeating the mistakes of the post-medieval church. Christians downplay conversion as a mechanism to shape culture and quickly enlist the help of governmental authority to push their agenda forward. Christian ministers spend little or no time helping the disadvantaged and many church leaders seem unconcerned about world poverty or hunger. Instead, the Christian movement is intent on shaping social issues through legislation. Namely: tax policy, gay rights, abortion, religious liberty, and gun control.

While Bart Ehrman no longer believes in the miraculous events recounted in the New Testament, he does believe that Christ’s life of love is a proper template for a modern ethical society. He observes that Christians today often abandon the real mission of Jesus and substitute a social and political agenda which detracts from Christ’s message of love and acceptance.

Seventh-day Adventists have been on the same trajectory as the Christian Church at large. What started as a movement has grown into a very tightly organized denomination complete with committees and councils designed to protect the integrity of our teachings and oversee the business entities of the church. There are enough shiny, dark suits at the top of our organization to keep Men’s Warehouse in business for years to come.

We agree with our Christian friends that the pathway to salvation is through the shed blood of Jesus, but we also assert other doctrines of faith that we believe are necessary to understand the will of God. It is interesting that the latest statement from the General Conference entitled, “An Invitation to Uplift Jesus: A Statement from the General Conference Executive Leadership and Division Presidents,” posits the following question regarding whether or not a particular organization should be regarded as supporting the church:

Do they have a clear understanding of the uniqueness of the Seventh-day Adventist movement? Are they clear in how Adventist faith differs from other evangelical denominations that exalt Jesus?”

This concept of differentiating ourselves from other Christians leads to a version of theological elitism. The unique points of doctrine to which the document alludes creates some degree of an aura of Biblical Correctness that, apparently, must be used as a litmus test to measure whether someone is, “In the Faith.” Because we view ourselves to be a repository of truth in some fashion or another, we are predisposed to vilify those who express points of view which are contrary to our understanding. In this “Invitation to Uplift Jesus” our church leaders appear to convey the idea that we have incontrovertible truths that completely preclude us from learning or accepting any new ideas. Far from demonstrating tolerance and acceptance, we instead draw a clear and, perhaps, false line of distinction between truth and error.

As Jesus goes about His ministry on earth, He provides His followers with an example of how to carry forward the will of His heavenly Father. Every thought and action originates from His heart of love. He doesn’t engage in tactics designed to sift people into artificial categories. He doesn’t attempt to correct the ills of society or preach against Roman oppression. He doesn’t rail against sinners and insist that God is punishing the world because of them. Instead, our Savior extends healing to the oppressed and downtrodden. Jesus does not embrace a tribal, “Us against them,” mentality but instead opts to treat everyone as valuable and precious gems crafted by His own hands.

When we hear of church leaders who exhibit negative, destructive attitudes toward those who practice different lifestyles or hold opposing points of view from our established theological dictums, then we can be certain that Christ is not being uplifted. After all, doesn’t it make sense that those who claim to represent Christ would, in some small way, actually mirror the example and teachings of Jesus?

We can all agree that this old world is spinning on a collision course with the mighty King of kings and Lord of lords. Someday soon the Majesty of Heaven will shatter the horizon of time to usher in a new order and make everything new. Our airwaves will no longer carry messages of hate and violence. Our skies will not be filled with missiles and fighter jets. We will not pledge allegiance to a flag or stand for any national anthem. We will not need to place ourselves above any of our brothers and sisters. Nationality, ethnicity, and tribalism will at last be a distant memory.

Seventh-day Adventists will soon discover that the standard of God’s perfect judgment has very little to do with correct biblical interpretation, but rather has everything to do with how we treat His precious creation. May God help us to be a beacon of hope, a community of acceptance, and a fountain of love so that the name of Jesus can be truly uplifted.

Leroy Sykes lives and writes from Alabama.

Photo by Gift Habeshaw on Unsplash

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8764

(jeremy) #2

i don’t think i disagree with this statement, but i don’t necessarily believe it, either…i think the key to being right in terms of god’s judgement is obedience to him, no matter what…that’s the major lesson i see in the OT…and sometimes obedience means being unloving towards others…for instance, i don’t think the people of jericho thought israel was being loving towards them when they flattened their city…in the NT, ananias and sapphira may have been loving people, but their story is associated with so-so obedience…big mistake…

correct biblical interpretation goes hand in hand with obedience - it kind of sets the stage for understanding what obedience means…of course loving others is part of obedience…


#3

It is interesting that the watch word is safety when we are at a time of already increasing safety and decreasing violence.

“STEVEN PINKER: The only way you can really answer the question - has violence gone up or down? - is to count how many violent incidents have there been as a proportion of the number of opportunities, and has that gone up or down over the course of history? And that’s what I tried to do in the book. I looked at homicide, looked at war, looked at genocide, looked at terrorism. And in all cases, the long-term historical trend, though there are ups and downs and wiggles and spikes, is absolutely downward. The rate of violent crime in United States has fallen by more than half in just a decade. The rate of death in war fell by a factor of 100 over a span of 25 years.” https://www.npr.org/2016/07/16/486311030/despite-the-headlines-steven-pinker-says-the-world-is-becoming-less-violent


#4

I thought about that too. It seems that the safety card is being played in many different arenas, especially with regard to immigration policies. The perception put forward, whether backed up by data or not, is that America is in dire trouble and is in need of strict reforms targeting people viewed as undesirable. Politicians try to use fear and distrust to divide and conquer and for the most part that strategy works pretty well.


#5

I overheard a man who was touring the Holocaust museum in Washington DC. ask a simple question. “Where is the museum for the children of the ancient city of Jericho?” I hope he was not trying to minimize the atrocities associated with the Holocaust, but we can take his point that some of the Biblical accounts of God’s judgements ARE hard to understand. I believe Carmen Lau’s latest articles wrestles with the question of God’s use of force. (Worth checking out—).

I think that following your own conscience, and obeying God’s still small voice is absolutely essential. Where we go astray is when we ask OTHER people to knuckle under and follow our flawless understanding of God’s will—even going so far as to sit in judgment and render a verdict!


(Elmer Cupino) #6

There is a school of thought in mental health known as Object Relations which is based on the premise that the quality of our current relationships are influenced by our childhood interpersonal relationship experiences that becomes integrated into our character and personality traits that brings out our best and worst which are then projected to those we meet who reminds us are previous experiences. Unless we fully understand where we came from, our future will always repeat our past. By our behaviors, we can predict our past.

So when we treat God’s precious creatures, what we show the world is in reality a fleeting glimpse of our past family interpersonal relationship history.


(Jeffrey Kent) #7

Fascinating quote based (presumably) on a statistical study, Ron. If only facts mattered more to those who proclaim certainty.

Big time. It’s working remarkably well today.


#8

I seem to recall something about sheep and goats, and a very different result for one and the other. Very much an us and them scenario He called the pharisees a brood of vipers. and white washed gravestones…not exactly precious gems, I guess there really is a place for correct Biblical interpretation, at least something to strive for.


#9

The sheep and goats referred to the final judgement. A judgement that Jesus tells us is based on how people treated the, “Least of these.”

For the Pharisees, Jesus did rebuke them. Their main failing? (You will no doubt see a recurring theme here—-). Their main failing was how they treated His creation. Study the woman caught in adultery or their grilling of the healing of the blind man, or the woman who came to anoint the feet of Jesus. Jesus overturned the tables of those who were mistreating His creation. They were cheating people of lesser means who only came to sacrifice according to the law of Moses. Jesus absolutely drew a red line against hypocrisy and self righteous, premature judgement of HIS creation! If looked at in the right sense, His words against the Pharisees were designed to save them from themselves. Because they claimed to know right from wrong, and because they sat in judgment against the least of the brethren, Jesus desperately wanted them to open their eyes and see themselves in true light of heaven. There are those today who claim to be right and mistreat God’s precious creation. Yes. Gems created by His own hands. Praise all of heaven He still cares for His sheep and is willing to rebuke and chasten those who place themselves, “Above,” others!

This is probably the reason that Jesus illustrated these principles by telling a parable about how to properly farm a vast field of wheat!


(Phillip Brantley) #10

If the GC is truly interested in uplifting Jesus, and I sincerely hope it is, then Ted Wilson and Mark Finley should appear together in public, go on the record, and denounce the anti-Trinitarian heresy of Eternal Fuctional Subordinationism. Their refusal to date to stand up for our precious Lord and Savior and declare that He is not eternally subordinate to the Father is a serious and grievous sin. And heaven and earth is watching.


(George Tichy) #11

Those people are not interested in denouncing heresies. Neither the anti-Trinitarian heresy you mentioned, nor the LGT heresy.
They are now thinking of re-election in 2020!* That’s all that matters (so tell me my parakeets!! :wink: :innocent:

Or is this now the GC’s TOP?

(TheOneProject)

=-=-=-=-=-=
*:thinking: :thinking: And so am I… :roll_eyes:


(Jeffrey Kent) #12

Trust every tweet you encounter–if uttered by a feathered friend.


(George Tichy) #13

AKA parakeets… I have not only one, but 25! And 4 of them will be leaving the nest this week (they are already colorfully feathered…), bringing brand new info in preparation for the 2020 GC election.

My main curiosity is, Did the GC already decide who is going to be announced as President so that the plenary representing the tithe payers can just say “amen” again?..

If I really decide to run for GC Prez, :thinking: my slogans will include:

  • Making the GC great again
  • Don’t just say “amen” again; vote right this time
  • Re-electing again may have “grave consequences” again!
  • Making women 100% human
    :smirk: :smirk:

(Jeffrey Kent) #14

I really appreciate your concern for the creation, @Lsykes. This message is sadly lacking in our discourse, in large part because evangelicals at large, and sympathizers within the church, have declared war on the creation.


(Matt) #15

In my opinion, this is a great distillation of the differences between secular and Biblical views on morality–and one of the reasons I personally have left Christianity. I think you’re correctly interpreting what has become, for many, a hard truth of the Biblical narrative.

Obedience to God is all that matters in both the Hebrew Bible and the NT. His commands define our actions, and what is right or wrong morally. Secular moral standards typically revolve around an agreed upon norm of “do not harm, and do help.” Under such a standard, people should always be treated as ends in themselves, and never means to an end.

The ethics derived from the Bible, however, are opposite. Sure, sometimes God’s commands are helpful to humanity. But often they are not. People are regularly treated as means to various nationalistic ends that only seem to benefit Israel. Genocide and murder are required and moral when God commands it, and require no more justification than “God said it.” God may have moral justification for apparently gratuitous actions such as genocide, but as humans we don’t have access to them. This leaves us with a sort of divine moral utilitarianism. But unlike human-based utilitarian ethics, where we attempt to weigh the consequences of an action and choose the action with the greatest net benefit to humanity, in this case all moral reasoning is taken out of our hands. We see something like the genocide of the amalekites and simply have to shrug and say that although we don’t understand it, God must have a reason. In a very real sense, this is not a system of ethics. It’s a system of blind trust and obedience.

Think about the difference in moral development between a child who simply obeys her parent, no matter what, and the child who understands empathy and can evaluate her actions and their consequences in order to take actions that reduce suffering and promote well-being. What happens if the father of the first child tells her to hit another child? What if the child misunderstands her father and thinks he wishes her to hit another child? Or, for instance, kill gay people or fly a couple of planes into the world trade center.

As our society has developed morally, we’ve come to appreciate many reasons why our behavior hurts other people. Most of us have an evolved sense of justice and empathy that helps us cooperate and survive in groups. We’ve come to recognize that, generally speaking, pro-social behavior is good for all of us. When we look back at the Biblical standard of “obedience at all costs” many of us find that our modern conscience conflicts with at least some of the alleged commands of Yahweh. So we find ways to reconcile the two, using well-argued theology like that of Leroy. But here’s the thing, I agree with Jeremy. I think an accurate reading of scripture DOES point to a god who values obedience over lives and human well-being.

If I was convinced that such a god existed, I would wonder how we could reach a conclusion that such an entity was, in fact, all-good. If his actions are not obviously all-good using a metric of human well-being, then on what do we base that judgment? It seems to me that we simply assert or assume God’s goodness, and then rationalize his actions with appeals to unknowable moral justifications. Personally, I am relieved that there is little evidence that such an entity exists. If one did, I would be terrified at the proposition of absolute obedience or death. Fortunately, I can move forward with living a life that helps and avoids harm, and I’m pretty confident we can collectively do much, much better, than Yahweh. In fact, if you pass by a gay man on the street without stoning him to death, I’d dare to say you already are. Congrats!


(Matt) #16

What happens when our conscience and God’s commands conflict? I see people I know and love struggle with this, particularly around issues of how to treat gay family members. Our consciences also don’t all agree, just as honest and earnest people disagree about how to interpret the Bible. Some, like yourself, see the love and mercy of Jesus. Others see the judgment and violence of the ancient Hebrews. It all seems essentially subjective to me. Perhaps, on a fundamental level, Biblical exegesis is simply a means to creating gods in our own image.


#17

I agree that conscience might be the operative word to consider. I believe people may put forward competing/conflicting ideas while at the same time claim to be guided by conscience. I have not argued, neither do I believe, that we are all separate islands, each one just making up our own rules with no objective overriding guidelines to steer us in deciding moral conduct. I believe the Bible does give us a structure on which to base some moral parameters. But here is where it gets tricky. Human nature refuses to allow those basic and fundamental moral principles to fully take over our thought patterns and actions. Christians teach that when we recognize these moral failures in our own lives that we can ask for forgiveness, wisdom and guidance and in doing so, our Savior Jesus is willing to stand in our place. The most common lapse of right thinking, in my opinion, is to believe that we have achieved a level righteousness such that we can now look down on other people. Yes there will be differences in the way we interpret some passages of Scripture, but it is a little hard to get around a simple instruction that reads, “You shall not steal.” If I am allowed to emphasize a word in the preceding quote, it would be “YOU”. Now that you and I have taken care of that matter, then we can move right on to other painfully clear instructions found in Scripture. But let’s be clear, we will have plenty of moral guidance to keep us busy for years to come. We will need forgiveness, we will need grace. Ultimately we will need Christ to substitute His life for ours.


(Matt) #18

I’m with you there to a point. I think secular or religious alike have to admit that there is always a gap between moral knowledge and moral actions. We all know things that we should do but fail at regularly. In my own experience, the narrative of Christianity can actually be detrimental in this area. I’m sure this is not the case for all people, and Christians will claim that this is not the theologically correct way to look at it, but for myself at least, living up to my own standards of behavior became easier after leaving the church. For many, I think there is a temptation to abdicate a certain amount of personal responsibility when the default response to sin and other problems is to pray and ask God for the power or strength to overcome them. At the core of Christianity is a belief that we cannot do it ourselves. That we are fundamentally broken and our only hope is Jesus. I think this attitude tends to discourage internal or introspective solutions to problems, where we fully understand the reasons we are the way we are, and the actions we can take to improve our own lives.

I agree that this is a fundamentally human problem, although I think cultural or religious narratives within Adventism magnify our natural desires to be correct and free from error, and then loudly pronounce this to the world.

The trouble is that apparently clear commands such as this are regularly contradicted elsewhere in scripture. Is it not stealing to kill the citizens of Palestinian cities, take their daughters as wives or concubines by force, and make off with their cattle and other worldly goods? When God commands it, it’s ok. I’ve heard some scholars make the argument that the Ten Commandments are really only supposed to apply to the behavior of Israelites toward other Israelites, which does make sense in the context of the rest of the Hebrew Bible. The whole narrative is tribalism at its finest, complete with blanket declarations of the guilt and complete irredeemably of entire people groups, followed by their genocide. I’m glad that you seem to be able to extract moral views from the Bible that I’m sure largely comport with my own, but I wonder how much our consciences have been shaped not by God or the text of the Bible, but by our own empathy for our fellow humans.


#19

I detect a lot of common ground between us. Abdicating responsibility for our actions and words can have catastrophic results. I think there is ample evidence of that in the current political climate. The Old Testament narrative is not self explanatory or easy to explain. I do believe that, in the final analysis, God will demonstrate to our satisfaction that His ways are just, and that the problem of sin is finally and forever resolved. I will admit this is a statement of faith—. I would never pretend that I could empirically defend this with incontrovertible proof, but I do believe in that Teacher from Galilee who left us a template for moral and ethical living.


#20

Matt, one of the statements you make "Most of us have an evolved sense of justice and empathy that helps us cooperate and survive in groups. We’ve come to recognize that, generally speaking, pro-social behavior is good for all of us. When we look back at the Biblical standard of “obedience at all costs” many of us find that our modern conscience conflicts with at least some of the alleged commands of Yahweh." is very thought provoking.

When I was young and attempted to understand my family underpinnings… i often wondered about Moses and what drove his journey to “diligently seek God”… Moses had direct knowledge of the "mystery of the Egyptian religion – specifically the “book of the dead”… … which includes alot of the “commandments” and some are very similar to the those proclaimed at Sinai…

This brings me to the case in point. Are we as individuals seeking God (and each of us has a separate and unique journey) to really “know God”. I know that Sabbath observance, and other culturally established “normative behaviors”… never really provided any “experimental journey”, specifically for the “non allowance” systemic devaluation — practiced by the “group” be it liberal or of a conservative bent.

It’s awesome that Moses spent real contact time in “God’s presence”… but I agree that each person has the opportunity to seek. To rely on a group/religion/creed, or external affirmation, outside “a discovery of God”… seems ONLY obedience based. To put it a different way, without the concept of God (higher power), creator, or some divine plan… everything washes into the cauldron of “moral relativism”… Using your other statement regarding “God said it”… if you discover it for yourself… it’s relative… otherwise… its hearsay…

I very much like your logic and brutal honesty, and ownership of your point of view.

with kind regards,