This is still the case. As Lewis points out in The Screwtape Letters, the present is the only time when God can actually speak to us, can affect our direction and our choices. “Gratitude looks to the Past and love to the Present; fear, avarice, lust, and ambition look ahead." In truth the past is also full of glories and regrets. God is primarily the I Am Present.
Thank you, Sigve, for pointing out that atrocities are presently diving, talons bared, or slithering toward “the least of those” on the margins. In focusing on a future Time of Trouble Adventists have historically neglected a myriad of unconscionable times of trouble, particularly when the trouble didn’t/doesn’t touch us. This cowardly, survivalist approach is a noxious blight on the fruit of the Spirit.
Instead of heading for the hills or descending to the plain of Dura, may Adventists who are followers of Jesus focus on engaging and liberating the present with fearless love, the way our Master did–and does.
Like Jesus said: There will be wars and rumours of wars but this is just the beginning… The fact that Prophecy - in its historicist interpretation - focuses on the big picture and points mostly to the very end time events is not a problem as such. One needs to remember that prophecy talks about what happens to the people of God (the Church) and not to the nations. It portrays events in very broad strokes. And also we need to understand that, while God suffers from all the evil that happens in this world, His mission is about saving people for the coming age and not saving this age from its present evil. After all, did not Jesus say" My kingdom is not of this world”?
That being said, it does not mean that the Church (organization as well as the believers) should be blind to what is presently happening or should turn the head to look elsewhere when present world events are shaping the very near future. There is a definite risk of seeing the Church (again!) elect to go down the path of the valley of Dura for the sake of not risking to lose its place in this world! But one day - and it is coming fast - the Church (the organization) will ultimately be faced with the perspective of total dislocation and annihilation. On that day, we will see who the Church really is! In the mean time, let us remember that all evil, all genocide, every war comes from one source and is used for one final goal: Satan and the establishment of his dominion on this planet. Historicism knows it, and we can see it happening in the very present time too!
I am pastor Guy Lacourse, from Canada.
While I agree that ideas go places, they can’t take us against our will, Sigve.
The weight you are laying on a hermeneutic approach here strikes me as a deflection from the real issues.
More on that later.
I am shocked that you would even suggest that, Sigve.
Are you saying that you are unaware that the Seventh-day Adventist emphasis on Religious Liberty goes back to the nineteenth century?
A Brief History
The Adventist Church and Religious Liberty
For more than 150 years, the Seventh-day Adventist Church has been committed to promoting freedom of belief for all people.
“Religious Liberty is in the DNA of the Adventist Church,” is how Elder Ted Wilson, president of the General Conference, describes Adventists’ deep commitment to the the idea that religious freedom is a God-given gift.
For Adventists, religious freedom has a strong biblical, historical, and theological foundation. It also has an important eschatological dimension.
The first article on this topic was written by John N. Andrews in 1851. He understood the importance of religious freedom in the context of the end time. In 1864, facing the problem of Adventists in the armies during the Civil War, and their position as noncombatants, Andrews made the link between religious freedom and what we could call today a “human right.”
A few years later, when Adventists opposed the program of the National Reform Association to pass religious legislation, including Sunday Laws, freedom of conscience was mentioned.
Ellen White, who had a great influence in the organization and working methods of the Adventist Church, stated that: “ We are not doing the will of God if we sit in quietude, doing nothing to preserve liberty of conscience … Let there be more earnest prayer; and then let us work in harmony with our prayers.”
In the Adventist town of Friedensau, Germany 99.9% voted for the Nazi parliamentary state.
Even though the Adventists wanted a strong Fuhrer and supported Hitler, that support varied. The reason was because of Hitler’s contradictions about religious liberty.
The departmental secretary of the South German Union Conference, M. Busch, was in support of Hitler and “approvingly quoted Hitler’s statement in Mein Kampf that ‘for the political Fuhrer all religious teachings and arrangements are untouchable.’”
The Adventists believed that Hitler was for religious freedom, while the Nazi Party was against it. “Still, point 24 of the Nazi party program stated that the Party supported positive Christianity, without tying itself to any particular confession.”
This was a debatable problem among Christian groups because no one knew what “positive” Christianity was. This problem was never clarified and the contradiction remained.
When Hitler became dictator of Germany the discussion on the contradiction ended and very soon Christian groups would know what Hitler meant by “positive” Christianity.
In their “Morning Watch Calendar,” the German Adventists shamefully wrote:
Trust in his people has given the Führer the strength to carry through the fight for freedom and honour of Germany.
The unshakable faith of Adolf Hitler allowed him to do great deeds, which decorate him today before the whole world.
Selflessly and faithfully he has struggled for his people; courageously and proudly he has defended the honour of his nation.
In Christian humility, at important times when he could celebrate with his people, he gave God in Heaven honour and recognized his dependence upon God’s blessings.
This humility has made him great, and this greatness was the source of blessing, from which he always gave for his people.
Only very few statesmen stand so brilliantly in the sun of a blessed life, and are so praised by their own people as our Führer.
He has sacrificed much in the years of his struggle and has thought little about himself in the difficult work for his people. We compare the unnumbered words, which he has issued to the people from a warm heart, with seeds which have ripened and now carry wonderful fruit.**
For those of you who don’t notice, the Calendar referenced Hitler’s sacrifices for “his struggle.” Hitler’s famous book that laid out his philosophy was called Mein Kampf , or, in English, My Struggle . Clearly, this is an open endorsement of Hitler’s philosphy by the German Adventists of the day.
**It is ironic that while Adventists had insisted upon religious liberty, they did not raise a voice against the persecution of countless Jews.
Instead, they even disfellowshipped those of Jewish background. At a time when German Adventists were publishing the religious liberty magazine Kirche und Staat [English: Church and State ] (an outside observer noticed its primary purpose as being the opposition to the Sunday laws), they kept quiet about the 1933 purges when hundred were murdered, and they said nothing against the persecution of Jews or about the occupied territories.**
Thanks for your reply. I should have discussed my point a bit more trenchantly. I assume that your original point was that with the first coming of Christ the Kingdom of God had arrived. Your point being since that was/is the case those who look forward to the promise of a coming Kingdom are negligent in their care/concern for the present kingdom.That opens the door for many questions. if the kingdom came with Christ at His first coming and now resides on earth, my question is simple; where is the King? You said it yourself. In Heaven at the right hand of God. Therefore my second question; how can you have a kingdom without a literal King being present? Would not the Lord’s prayer be nonsensical when one of the petitions asks for the kingdom to come? Furthermore what of OT times, was there no kingdom present that whole time? I stand by my original point and that is without a literal King you have no kingdom on earth at this present time. Again thank you for your response. Just talking.
Jesus mailed it succinctly: The religious leaders of the day ignored the beaten and robbed man lying on the road to Jericho. Maybe they were in a hurry get to Autumn Council in Jerusalem to give women the same treatment.
I am not sure that a lack of compassion IE roadside assistance establishes/produces a blindness to the present lack of kingdom decorum today. It instead establishes blindness in the individual. I suppose for many who are fixated (blind) to present concerns you have a valid point. IOW they are fixated on the future at the expense of all else. But my point is simple if you have no King you have no kingdom. I do not mean to say by that forget about the injustice on display everywhere. I mean to say their will be no kingdom until He who promised he would come again actually gets here. I am not into propositional date setting or irrational appeals to super become Christians. I instead would propose that the citizens who are lacking in social skills/compassion are not citizens on any past/ or coming kingdom. Further a desire for the second kingdom too appear should not truncate the desire to live like a citizen of said coming kingdom.
The presence of the Spirit brings the kingdom of God into the present, because the Spirit brings the presence of the king. It is not as if Jesus is confined to a distant place. This is because of the power of the Spirit. The NT is clear about this. “The kingdom of God is in your midst,” as Jesus said to the religious leaders of his day. It is no less true today, by the power of the same Spirit.
Additionally, the NT describes the Spirit as the down-payment of the fullness of what is to come. This implies that God’s reign on earth has a present and future dimension.
Finally, the gospel proclamation is Jesus is Lord…not will be Lord. If he is Lord, then all earthly powers are not. That is true now, despite the way things appear in this present age. We live in the now and the not yet of God’s reign. We pray “thy kingdom come” as members of his kingdom, acknowledging that the best, in its fulness, is yet to come.
Adventist eschatology, and even its theology as a whole, seeks 19th c. answers to middle age dilemmas. It missed the holocaust, Rwanda, etc. I would add the killing fields in Cambodia, the pogroms of Mao and Stalin, and the martyrdom of Christians all over the globe throughout the last century and up to the present, having nothing to do with Sabbath observance or the papacy. Irony of ironies is that the RCC is now one of the biggest advocates for religious freedom in places where it is endangered.
The Adventist marriage to the historicist method and scenario, its preoccupation with past boogeymen, and a “prophetic” view of the future predetermined by that preoccupation, blinds its adherents to the real life issues and forces confronting Christians today. It also breeds an overconfidence in the knowledge and mapping out of how the end will come…something that Jesus and the NT never give.
You speak of the kingdom of grace. But there is also a kingdom of glory as Jesus and Paul speak about in numerous passages in the NT. They both exist. In the kingdom of glory the King will be literally present. That is the blessed hope.
Mt. 26 narrates Jesus’s Passion and trials. I don’t see how that speaks to this, at least in the setting of historicist interpretation.
If you meant Mt. 24-25, Jesus first gives signs of the eschaton that are non-signs…wars, rumors of wars, famines, etc. He gives positive signs as to the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple. He continues with persecution and the preaching of the gospel, which have gone on throughout Christian history for the past 2000 years. While these are to continue before his return, the only sign he gives that is directly connected to his coming, is the sign of the Son of Man in the heavens, a universally visible event.
While Jesus compares these to the ripening of the fig tree that indicates that summer is near, he then goes on to tell his disciples that no one knows the day nor the hour of his parousia. He gives parables in Chap. 25, that say that it could be earlier than you think, or later. Thus, he says repeatedly, “Always be ready, for the Son of man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” Nowhere does Jesus encourage the idea of mapping out events in detailed format to determine when he is coming. We simply can’t.
Adventism grew out of a date setting movement in Millerism. Through its emphasis on looking for the implementation of a national or universal Sunday law as the sign of the end, it resorts to a loose type of date setting itself. It is an over emphasis on the so called signs of the times to determine the time of Jesus’s return. I wonder how much this focus actually blinds us to what is going on in the world, and to God’s work in it now, to redeem it. As Jesus said to those who were preoccupied with the signs of the times in his day, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observance, but the kingdom is already in your midst.”
Expectations blind us. We expect certain “signs” to happen, in a certain order and that is all we look for. As a result we miss the bigger picture. The same applies to those who say Christ is “delaying” His return. It only seems that way because we are expecting Him to be here by now.
If my friend tells me he is coming to my house tomorrow but has not arrived by lunch time can I say he is delaying? He did not tell me he would arrive by lunch time.
God has His own timetable. He will come when He is ready, even if we are not.
Here is a short primer on historicism, which is a highly ambiguous term. Andrew Reynolds, philosophy professor at Harvard, offers five types of historicism:
“Mundane historicism”–The methodological practice of looking to the text’s historical context in one’s interpretation of the text has been characterized as historicism.
“Methodological historicism”–This reflects the effort to differentiate the human sciences, principally history, from the natural sciences. The natural sciences are governed by the scientific method, but history is governed by historicism. (A better way of saying the latter is that the human sciences, including history, are governed by hermeneutics).
“Popperian historicism”–The view that there are general laws, patterns, and rhythms of history that help us predict the future has been characterized as historicism by Popper. Popper criticizes this historicism, which is best exemplified by Hegel and Marx.
Moving from methodology to larger value concerns…
“Epistemic historicism”–That modes of reasoning are not fixed but change over time has been characterized as historicism. Notice the nod to Foucault and his epistemes of resemblances.
“Total historicism”–That there are no universal, eternal, changeless, and transcendent values or notions of truth but that such are historically conditioned has been characterized as historicism.
We can supplement this list with what has been described as New Historicism, which is a reaction to the New Criticism (which gives the text semantic autonomy irrespective of authorial intent and historical context) and Structuralism (which posits that the text’s meaning is not its content but its literary devices). New Historicism rejects the view that a text’s historical context is an objective given, rejects the privileging of the literary text over non-literary texts that comprise in part the historical context, and is interested in discerning how the text advances structures of power.
And of course, as everyone knows, “historicism” is a term used to describe a particular method of interpreting Bible prophecy.
What does all of this mean for Seventh-day Adventists? SDAs claim that they use the historical-grammatical method of biblical interpretation but in reality most only use the grammatical method of biblical interpretation. Very little effort is made to discern historical context, the Classics are rejected as unsuitable reading material because they are pagan even though they inform much of the historical context, the biblical text is often inappropriately read as one would read a statute, and consequently, SDAs, who are largely ignorant of linguistics, a subsidiary discipline of hermeneutics, exaggerate the capability of words to function as determinants of meaning. And the biblical text is misinterpreted as a result.
The creation/evolution debate is forcing SDAs to understand the important methodological differences between the natural sciences and the human sciences. Ideally, this debate should raise awareness among SDAs of the importance of learning hermeneutics.
If you are interested in philosophy of history, you might read Frank Ankersmit, Hayden White, and Eelco Runia. But who are the SDA philosophers of history that come to mind? There aren’t any. Given our doctrine of the Great Controversy, SDAs should be taking the lead in the present discussions about the philosophy of history. Can Ellen White be presented as a philosopher of history? No one in our faith community seems interested in doing so. (I like this essay, because some issues pertaining to philosophy of history are explored).
SDAs don’t talk about laws of history or how history shapes us, because SDA theology has largely failed to realize that history is a causative factor in life. That the biblical text is historically conditioned is not understood by most SDAs. SDAs believe that the biblical text sets forth transcendent, universal, eternal, changeless, and absolute truth, and as a consequence, struggle to apply the biblical text to present circumstances in a way that instills confidence that such application has been done in a methodologically sound way. In reality, what the biblical text sets forth is historically-conditioned truth, which is paradoxically more meaningful for a people who claim to worship a personal God rather than a Platonist deity who does not insert Himself in our time and space.
Just imagine every week the first thing in church service, right after worship, is your pastor praying for the persecuted Christians around the world and for a sister Christian church and it’s pastor in the county each week. Now that’s Christians being Christian, brother! (Never reported seen within an Adventist church)
And while persecution of Christians IS HAPPENING around the globe the ONLY time an Adventist hears about it is if it happens to an Adventist. Those that are “already Christian” are mainly looked upon as low hanging fruit for “conversion” as they spend 91% of their mission resources towards that goal. For me this is an outrage. Realize I am looking at it as one who is already Christian and that Adventists have the unbiblical gall to tell me Christ is not enough!