Time to Start Over: The Quest for Community: Church Life Re-Imagined

Imagine you are at sea in a boat with leaks and other structural problems. You have tools and materials for addressing the problems, but the shore is far off: you’ll have to stay afloat in the boat even as you try to re-build it.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/11472
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I was baptized at sixteen, along wth my mom as the culmination to an evangelistic series. My dad tolerated the changes but celebrated not having to spend Saturdays on mall parking lots waiting for mom and me to make the rounds. I remember having discussions with him, arguing that the Adventist Church isn’t like the others, while he claimed they were all just another form of a business corporation.

Through the decades since, I keep hearing his words ringing my ears, but one can live with that as long as you focus on the important stuff - and then came the Ford era, and “survival of the fittest” at the GC went into overdrive. Jobs and members were lost and my dad’s voice kept getting louder. At this point I’m barely hanging on with one hand and asking “why”.

I appreciate the voices that are asking for a do-over, but how deep can that renovation reach? Not far into the project it will have to contend with a brick wall.



If one realizes he’s on a sinking ship and must count on people whom he’s demonized, or that he must depend on fellow sailors whom have only questioned his sailing skills and abilities to ever fix the boat from the start, the best course of action would seem to be to grab a life boat and abandon ship.

Otherwise, and if indeed the repairs can be made, he’ll still find himself afloat at sea on a ship captained and crewed by evil fools.

Someone said life is like a movie where you came in after the show has already started and you know you have to leave before they roll the credits.

If so, and one finds himself hating the parts of the movie he is seeing, one always has the option of abandoning that show and going outside for some fresh air.

I’m not talking about suicide, I’m talking about giving up on religion, which some will insist is pretty much the same thing.

For my part, however, and having taken the plunge with nothing but my own senses and spirit as a life vest, all I can say is that the water is cold at first, and things can get choppy at times, but the rewards have been worth the risks.


As I read this missive, all I can think of is that in my 45 years of association with the SDA faith, I have rarely known the kind of Radical Reformation that Charles is speaking of.

I was a recent delegate at the Pacific Union Conference event where they historically and enthusiastically elected a woman as the Executive Secretary. Where attending was the President of the North American Div. who is black. And where the delegates came together in earnest support of the work of the church.

But then on this same website I read Ted Wilson’s 14 theological threats.

I do not know if you can be what Charles describes when you are a large organization. The very nature of such means you have to codify rules and behaviors. The bigger you are, the more that is required.

Thank you Chuck for your courage, your theological insights, your eloquence and your passion for a community that has been forced, at risk of its unity, to yield inch by inch to the prophetic promptings of the Holy Spirit on how we should “be” in koinonia. As early as the middle 70’s those one would call “open conservative” leaders at the GC voiced distress when leadership determined it would define the “fundamentals” in ways that were unsupportable by the Bible. One said to me: “Let’s admit that we support Daniel 9:24-27 and the Investigative Judgment Sanctuary doctrine on Ellen White alone. I’m all right with that. But it is utter foolishness to insist it is truly a Biblical teaching.” But those convinced they “know” and “have” the truth–as it is currently defined and lived out around the world–organize pseudo-open conferences on contentious issues and pretend that one-sided papers satisfy the community’s need to be forthright and inclusive. We do not enjoy an inclusive SDA community at multiple levels. Chuck’s way forward is the ONLY hope we have.


But even brick walls can be washed away if the floods are powerful enough.

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The issue is even bigger than this.

Religions are not only supposedly faced with the gargantuan task of making rules and trying to correct external behaviors on behalf of a creator who has shown himself to either incompetent or incapable of doing so himself.

They believe god has assigned them the divine duty of trying to control inexplicable and necessarily interior “things” like attitudes, emotions, preferences and desires.

It doesn’t take a deep dive into human history to realize that all such attempts have been colossal failures.

Just as it is no great feat of prognostication to predict that “more of the same” insanity undoubtedly portends similarly disastrous results! :yawning_face::rofl:


But are they? Those of us who have watched this shipwreck happening in slow motion are getting tired. At this point, does the next generation care enough to put forth the effort. I remember, when at AUC, thinking that my generation was going to make a difference on this score.

Where there’s life, there’s hope.

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Do not know the future. Optimism is almost beyond reach and fragile. Hope is different. Find spiritual and theological sustenance wherever possible. BTW: Have you heard Barbara Brown Taylor’s sermons on YouTube? Or NT Wright. Or Tim Keller?

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Yes, Tim Keller, and read books by Taylor and Wright. Thank you.

Great minds think alike. :laughing:

I listened to part 3 of Chuck’ podcast then read his piece here. As a member of the more fundamentalist camp, I will respond.

  1. You need us and we need you. A church full of the more liberal sort as the posters here seem to be, just fragments. There is no-one to stay the course as each is a captain of his own ship. While a church full of conservatives tends to fossilize.

  2. Ted is not the leader of the church, the Church in general conference is. It is a body of believers. Those people decide, and to attribute the denial of WO to Ted, or the hierarchy alone, is a denial of what happened. (the third world did not want to be told to do it). So it is with the other issues that trouble you so much. I just read the statement of the church from Ministry in 1990 about Des Ford. It was a gracious document, made with even his input. Des’s thinking was rejected, but not by just the Conference president, but by a number of folk in consultation. He undermined some basic beliefs. He could not continue as a minister if the church was to be faithful to its feeling about itself.

  3. There is a thread here now: An Open Letter to the Church by a Mother of a Transgender Child. She condemns the church for its lack of affirmation (though it is not clear how much dialogue there was between them). Akdrey posted a few sentences showing the incoherence of transgender thinking. Does the church have to accept a postulate that is incoherent, because it has to affirm all behavior?

  4. On koinonia. A community has boundaries (most Sunday keepers would not be happy here). All of them do. Since I am one of the dread fundamentalist, I would not likely be welcomed to Chuck’s church. I believe conservative and liberals can coexist in the same church. But rather than seeing the other (like Chuck does) as evil hobblers, one needs to see the strengths of those people’s viewpoint. it can be done. But to look at each other as the enemy, the devil’s child, won’t work, and there can be no Koinonia.

So, what to do? Chuck suggests starting over in some way. Just won’t work. What happened to all those who left when Des was asked to step down? Did they cohere and form a body of believers? No, they drifted away.

How about a church that keeps sabbath but believes in evolution? It won’t work either. Without a teether to the creation story, the sabbath will become more or less meaningless. Why so much bother about a day when Sunday is so convenient? Armstrong’s church gave it up when he died.

Or how about a church that accepts gays as full members, like some SDA churches are doing? Well, the more liberal churches, Episcopalians, Presbyterians and Lutherans have been doing that for years, and they are loosing members like a cancer patient looses hair. When you throw away the anchor, you drift in the storm, and crash on the rocks.

There is something stable about that weak defective SDA church that keeps it going. You will not get it elsewhere. You will have to put up with some of those confounded fundamentalists. You should be thankful for they steady the tiller. No one else will.

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Just four suggestions:

  1. Change the 28 to just two - Love God; Love your neighbor.

  2. Leave the pre-advent judgment (if you think there is one) to God.

  3. Concentrate on Bible study instead of preaching.

  4. Change the clarion call from “the three angels’ message” to “whosoever will, come”.


I think many churche, even some Adventist ones, would accept you on this confession. But you did leave out the sabbath.

I am curious why you think that a group did not coalesce around Ford? Many left the church then, and he had a message that many still long for. He did remain a member, but not a minister, though he apparently did much speaking.

It seems to have been an opportunity to form a church such as Chuck longs for.

Yes, my family met with Ford three different times in a couple locations we happen to share. Ford was never intent to form “another church”. He never invited people to leave the Adventist church. But like the history of the Christian church shows; and, how even the SDA church initially identified itself, to be a “movement” - a continuation, perhaps, of the Reformation - implies that men, even with clerical collars, or parking spaces at the GC headquarters, can’t know all there is to know about God and how He works. Assuming our understanding of God has no limit, it would make sense to leave God some room to work, while we may even need to change our understanding of some things.

I don’t think the members who left the church ever really intended to leave - they were pushed out. We met an older couple who had worked all their lives in the church, - he being the head elder in his current church, found it too painful to continue because of all the flack he was getting about Ford. His eyes filled with tears telling of his experience.

Once you put beliefs into print, with endorsements from EGW, there is no going back or forward.

Yes I did. If it needed extra emphasis above and beyond the other nine commandments, I think Jesus might have mentioned that when asked “which was the most important commandment”. He didn’t, and I don’t.


I think you hit on it here. If he had, there would have ben quite a following. He remained a member all his life. I was in Africa at the time, Malamulo Mission. There was some discussion, but that was about it. I remember some relatives of one of he missionaries came, and they eventually left the church. My brother was in the seminary at Andrews at the time, and credits one of his teachers from keeping him in the church. But I had little to do with it, engrossed in the mission experience.

Des Ford had many followers who stayed in the church - some hidden for fear of losing their jobs; and others just didn’t see the need to leave. “They” can require whatever they want for you to keep a job, but nobody can control what you believe. Nothing really changed for those who agreed with Ford. What does it matter, in practice, if you believe in a heavenly sanctuary and a judgment happening up there somewhere, or not? It certainly doesn’t generate better Adventists, just fearful ones. The continual emphasis on 1844 and all that goes with does get annoying, though.


Just as faith can be a good or bad thing, optimism is not universally laudable and Hope can devolve into an opioid-like, dope addiction that effectively prevents growth and needed change.

As Rose watches Jack succumb to the cold and sees the Titanic surrender to the silent sea, it makes sense that she use optimism as a coping device or fervently hope there’s an afterlife for both ships and the people who sail on them.

But the real, practical real thing for her to do at that point was to abandon Pollyanna-type, wishful thinking about people and ships, (or what she’d read about either in books), just as she had abandoned the opulence her cruise liner, and instead paddle toward one of Carpathia’s stark little life boats.

Jim, I understand that you and Chuck have spent your respective life times working and hoping to improve the Adventist community. And I would never say that time has been wasted if for no reason than that I, for one, am grateful to you, as you’ve been instrumental in providing the current forum where SDA’s, both current and past, can speak openly about this unique brand of Christianity…

However, knowing the beast from the inside as you both do, it seems each of you are more aware than most that the internal machinations and existential fundamentals of the denomination are flawed, I suggest irretrievably so.

I’d also respectfully submit that hoping this will one day change, or that waiting optimistically for the community to someday, somehow coalesce into something that god and Jesus can redeem en masseemphasized text**, is like watching the movie again and thinking that next time it might end with Titanic steaming majestically up the Hudson and, with help of the waiting harbor tugs and ropes, being pulled safely into the berth prepared for her in Manhattan.

Two problems threaten conversation of the sort many of us want to foster.

You, Bruce, may illustrate one of them. That is the problem of repeated participation by people whose argument is: the church is an irretrievable disaster; just get out! We need, perhaps, to hear your point of view, if only to gain a more full-blooded sense of the crisis. But repeated time and time again, it begins to come across as pointless carping. Your new moral center, and its presumed superiority, would offer us a fresh challenge to consider. (Perhaps you are sharing that already, and I have missed it.)

The other problem is intellectual non-engagement on the part of church leaders and even many educators, including many religion teachers. Bruce’s point of view, tiresome though it seem, does, if we are at all responsible, require attention. Perspectives aimed at renewal, like my own, also require attention, both from those who manage the status quo and those who realize the need for change but only wring their hands and grind their teeth.

Isn’t non-engagement even worse than pointless carping?

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I guess I should have expected this.

More gaslighting/the doubter or dissenter is the problem.


I predict a major episode on this issue and others related to it. Notice that the So. Baptists are making front page news for their own irrational and harmful fundamentalism. Notice also that the Latter-day Saints walk an increasingly thin tightrope with their academics and thoughtful members, and so on. Modernity is the Titanic that will not sink but split open the glacier!!