What’s Next for the Children of the Disappointed?

Turn to metaphor and ambiguity.

Address the disappointments of others.

Don’t think we determine the time of Christ’s return.

Left out won’t do; never give up.

Late Sabbath afternoon at the Adventist Forum’s conference on “The Great Adventist Stories,” four speakers addressed the ongoing experience of a community familiar, from the very beginning, with disappointment.

Gil Valentine led off. A La Sierra University professor and historian of Adventist history whose most recent book is The Prophet and the Presidents, Valentine said we all Adventists are “the children of the disappointed.” Although William Miller, early in his study, remained a bit vague about just when Christ’s coming would occur, he moved toward great “specificity” of prediction. Followers were pressuring him into greater precision, and he came at last to naming October 22, 1844, as the exact day of Christ’s return. The Great Disappointment followed, and ten years later the Advent Movement that was left had splintered into some 25 groups.

Precise prediction sets us up for disappointment and disagreement. A certain “ambiguity” and “vagueness,” he said, would be good. The Bible used metaphor, symbol and story, and it is time for Adventists to do the same. With respect to our hopes, a “strategic” use of humbler forms of language would assist the church toward great unity and, at the same time, preserve “the essence of our conviction” about the providence of God and ultimate return of Christ.

Next Geoffrey Nelson-Blake, a young man seminary trained, experienced in the Adventist pastorate and now a “community organizer” in San Francisco, told the story of his “disappointment” over how our church relates to the wider society. In San Diego, where he began as a pastor, he noticed that conversation among Adventist ministers focused on challenges Adventists were facing, and on efforts we make to win new members to our own congregations. But when he met with pastors of others faiths, the conversation turned to problems in the wider community, and to strategies for influencing the world toward fixing of those problems.

Invoking Micah 6:8, he said that when others face disappointments—suffer violence, for example—it is our job to show mercy and to work for justice. He went on to say that if power is about money, it is also about people, about the influence they can have. When three Adventists set up a memorial service for the victim of shooting in Ferguson, MO, they scheduled it for the place where it happened exactly two weeks after the event, on Sabbath at about noon. A large, nearby Adventist congregation could have shifted the climax of its worship service toward participation in what these three other Adventists had put together, but it didn’t. Nor did Adventists in Murrieta, CA, join other Christians in speaking out against the hostility to child immigrants that boiled up in that community. Why not? Nelson-Blake wondered. Shouldn’t we be spending more of our energy on how to use the power that we have for the betterment of others?

James Londis, a former pastor of the Sligo Adventist Church in Takoma Park and recent chair of the Humanities and Social Sciences department at Kettering College, told the story of his teenage conversion under the influence of fiery apocalyptic preaching by an Adventist evangelist in New York City. Soon afterwards, he was summing up his personal religious conviction in two sentences: “Jesus is coming soon” and “You must be ready.” The experience changed his life for the better.

But as he matured in his faith, he better understood a problem that troubled even the New Testament church: the delay of Christ’s return. The New Testament reports words from both Jesus and Paul that early believers took for assurance that the Second Coming would return within their own lifetimes. As time wore on and peopled aged, anxiety about this matter arose. But the same New Testament that suggested Christ’s imminent return addressed the resulting anxiety by denying that humans can know its time. Not even the “signs” can undo the fact that the Second Coming will be as surprising as the coming of a thief in the night.

Many Adventist ministers and theologians argue for something close to biblical infallibility; they deny that prophecies about events leading up to the Second Coming are in any sense conditional. But these points, Londis argued, are dubious. If God is sovereign, Christ can return can occur at any moment, can “respond,” in other words, “to human history as it unfolds.” And as for us, we can neither predict nor control when God’s final victory will take place. The better focus, as Matthew 24’s parable of the last judgment suggests, is to dwell, through service, in the presence of Christ today. We should say, “Jesus is coming,” without adding the word “soon,” Londis said. And then pray, “Even so, Come, Lord Jesus.”

The last speaker was Rebekah Wang, an internist at Kettering Adventist Hospital who has reported on women in pastoral ministry in China. She began with stories from her own family that illustrate the experience of being “left out” or “left behind.” When, for example, her father left China to advance his education in the United States, her mother remained, running from wartime bombs, tied to demanding in-laws, rearing her children without her husband’s help.

Today women and people of color experience feelings that may be similar to her mother’s when they are left out or left behind. Whether in the U. S. Congress, or in leadership of colleges and of medical and law schools, or in the ordained ministry of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, they are underrepresented or, as in the latter case, actually excluded. Wang did tell the story of Adventist women pastors in China who have been ordained despite church policy. That, she said, is a bright spot. But it is still an exception.

E. B. White, author of Charlotte’s Web, remarked that upon arising in the morning he is “torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. "This," he said further, "makes it hard to plan the day." After quoting White, Wang said that it doesn’t have to be an either-or. "We can and should and must" improve people’s well-being. Then she added that her mother, who is about to turn 103, "never gave up, during the dark days of the war in China, on her own dreams of a better life.” And neither, she said, should those today who today feel left out or left behind.

Photos courtesy Rajmund Dabrowski


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6302

The last of the Seven Churches of Revelation were a tasteless disappointment to Christ. Proud of their Righteousness and lukewarm in their acknowledgement of the source of their redepemtion. Now we have a sect diappointed in Christ’s delay yet proud of their superior understanding of scripture of last days–who contend that as Christ is their example they will reproduce in kind His Righteousness and finally vindicate God. if so we are in for a very long wait indeed. Tom Z

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When three Adventists set up a memorial service for the victim of shooting in Ferguson, MO, they scheduled it for the place where it happened exactly two weeks after the event, on Sabbath at about noon. A large, nearby Adventist congregation could have shifted the climax of its worship service toward participation in what these three other Adventists had put together, but it didn’t. Nor did Adventists in Murrieta, CA, join other Christians in speaking out against the hostility to child immigrants that boiled up in that community.

This is what is wrong with most of the so called community organizers. They have little grasp of any other opinion other then their own. They assume their course of action is best and anything different is wrong. So 3 Adventists plan a memorial on the street. So why should the local SDA church reschedule. People who want to go to the memorial certainly could. But what does the community organizer want. He wants an official SDA church involvement by the church changing it schedule to imply agreement with the memorial for a rather questionable character, who may not be all that innocent in what happened. If the man (yes 18 year olds really are referred to as men) were a member or connected to the SDA congregation the church involvement would be appropriate. though still no reason to do it on the street.

Similar to the Murrieta CA the community organizer calls it “hostility to child immigrants” rather then what it was a protest against the Federal government and their decision to bus and fly the influx of under age illegal immigrants to be farmed out to communities when the communities are not even informed or in many cases not even the local governments are informed.

If the goal is to deride people by language that paints them in a particular way quite apart from what they actually do or say, then community organizers are what you want. If you want logic, objective and problem solving abilities. Not so much.

the Great Controversy from the Halls of Heaven to the gates of Eden to the last man standing has been and will be-- Who is worthy of worship. not when to worship. The great sin of man was that he also was worthy of worship. LGT theology has bought it hook line and sinker. That is why the Cross is the center of the Christian faith. Time setting is man’s ego at work again–so disappointment is always just a breath away. The last challenge will be individual not denominational. that is why Paul is so critical to my theology. He saw the issue so clearly. Tom Z

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Perhaps we have a wrong concept of what “waiting” for Jesus’ return is all about. As Elaine has reminded us numerous times Jesus returns the moment we breathe our last - and most assuredly that can come like a thief in the night. Perhaps our relentless focus on “soul sleep” doesn’t want to acknowledge that possibility for fear of not being different enough.

I was baptized just outside NY city as well, Jim (if you’re reading this) - in the same church the Halversons attended. Shortly after I was baptized, there was a temperature inversion and the NY skyline was reflected in the clouds above Babylon (Long Island, that is). In the simplicity of my faith, I thought maybe Jesus was coming right then, and I was ready.

Another thing - about [quote=“spectrumbot, post:1, topic:6247”]
we can neither predict nor control when God’s final victory will take place.
[/quote]

I know we have a distinct narrative to maintain, but I must point out that Christ’s final victory has already taken place. Maybe it’s this story line we feel obligated to carry with us, that keeps us from seeing the bigger picture - dooming us to forever look forward to something that will never be culminated just as we expect - like C.S. Lewis’ comment about Narnia where the wicked witch held court; where “it was always winter, but never Christmas”.

Maybe, too, it’s also about the journey, and not only the destination. If we can’t enjoy and even cherish our lives here and now, what hope do we have that we’ll be happier even in “heaven” (to be precisely Adventist - the new earth). If we shut up our emotions at losses in our lives here, as proof of our faith in Christ’s return, we end up half human - a phenomenon I have witnessed at SDA funerals. Yes, “We Have this Hope”, but true human emotion; true human life must be lived to its fullest, as Jesus promised. This may include the deepest griefs, as well as hopes. Shutting off the tears can hurt us eternally.

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" We should say, ‘Jesus is coming,’ without adding the word ‘soon,’ Londis said. And then pray, ‘Even so, Come, Lord Jesus.’"

I couldn’t disagree more. The Bible always portrays the Second Coming as “soon.” “Behold, I come quickly.” Rev. 3:11, 22:12.

Soon may be a relative term, but if you die tonight, the adverb “very” would precede the word “soon.”

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Matthew 24:14 says different.
“And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.”

God has granted us the privilege of spreading the gospel. We have control of this prophecy. Obviously we haven’t done it because we’re still here.

This is typical liberal Adventism (and Spectrum) theology. Ignore the end-time events and throw your own spin on it. The Sunday law must and will come right before Jesus comes.

David R.

Ok Dave, and the Jews are still waiting for the Messiah.

Had you ended your thought process here David, I would have given you a star. Doing one’s best and being obsessed and preoccupied with its results can only fuel anxiety and assure neurosis in life. Who wants that (other than the LGTers)?

But I guess that preamble was needed to end with the conclusion of the “typical liberal Adventism (and Spectrum) theology.” Oh well.

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What you say is 'true"; namely, that at the moment of death Jesus, has effectively, come for us. But the NT never mentions that issue. Christ’s coming is the end of all things, not just my end. It has been 2000 years since their expectations were dashed and many, many decades since our own were dashed. “Behold I come quickly” meant what int he NT era? I am coming as soon as you die?

Not hardly. Nonetheless, your point that we must “be ready” is New Testament since he comes as a thief in the night.

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As I said, “soon” is a relative term. But, when compared to the 6000 year span of earth’s history, the 200+ years since we began the “time of the end” is a very short time; and we are not out of line when saying that Jesus is coming soon. And, if one takes the position that so many Spectrumites do (that the earth is much more than 6000 years old), it would be “soon” even if He didn’t come for another thousand years.

And Ellen White always portrays the event as “soon.” We can’t go wrong if we follow her lead, especially given the fact that we have been in the time of the end for more than 200 years, and that the final events will be “rapid ones.” As an example of how rapid they could be, we have the fall of the Berlin Wall, and collapse of the USSR, which virtually no one saw coming. And then there was the rapid unification (albeit short-lived ) of politicians in the immediate aftermath of the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

Then what do both Peter and Ellen White mean when they say that we can hasten the return of Jesus? Sister White also says that we have delayed it. That seems plain enough.

So how do you explain Matthew 24:36 “However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself.[k] Only the Father knows.?"

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We have repeatedly heard that “we must be ready” as “Christ is coming soon.” We have become jaded to the consistent theme, but what does it REALLY mean? What should one do to be ready that he may not already by doing? It’s like “Waiting for Godot” and how long can a message be relevant after two millennia but with the added emphasis introduced by the Millerite and Adventist movement a century and a half ago?

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So, why can’t the SDA’s get it together and quit delaying Jesus’ return? How many Adventists have to “be ready” before Jesus can return? What do you, and your church need to do to make this happen?

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as much as i would love christ to return and initiate eternal life in a world made new - that is, a second literal six-day creation - i’m thankful he hasn’t…the vast majority of people in our church would be lost…almost everyone outside of the church would be lost…the three angels’ messages haven’t had the kind of impact they need to have before most people outside the church would sit up and take notice…as for people who grew up in the church, but still have problems with it, i have no real hope any more info will bring about any changes…it’s more the people in the world i’m worried about…

the second coming of christ is a day of complete doom… it isn’t something to be casually hoped for, or its delay complained about…

I am not sure who “we” actually are, but feeling in control of prophecy must be an amazingly good feeling, isn’t it? Something that we, liberals, certainly miss because we don’t experience such a divine privilege.

I should try to be a “saint” one of these days. I already have a city in Utah named after me anyway, so it will certainly be easy to adjust to deserving it!

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Pici,
You too should start writing prophecy before the door of opportunity is shut. You certainly got the skills…

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Elmer, would you please stop asking difficult and embarrassing questions?
It almost seems that you need more patients, so you ask these questions to make them go crazy, and then they have to see you…
Don’t send them to me, I have absolutely no openings for this type of disturbance!

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Elaine,
With every day that goes by and the Adventist “end of the time” timing fails, it becomes more complicated to explain it. Some people are getting desperate and jumping into others boats like the male headshi thing, discrimination of women, avoiding any new discovery in science, etc. Time is running, and those people have no time to waste. I only hope this LGT stuff starts working soon… so that they can allow God to go on with His plan…

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