Why Renewal Won’t Happen, or Might

Is it the pull of convention? Is it failure to learn? Is it cowardice? In face of Adventist crisis occasioned by administrative overreach, what stands in the way of renewal? We’d better get clear about this, because our Movement’s integrity is at risk, and the fix won’t come from the top.

Consider first these points, each incontrovertible:

1) In declaring all persons (not kings alone, as in surrounding cultures) bearers of the divine image, page one of Scripture affirms all embodied humanity and undermines all hierarchy and status-seeking.

2) The New Testament declares Jesus, a radical champion of the same vision, both Lord and Messiah, the exact imprint, indeed, of God’s very being.

3) If utterances from the church, or even from the Bible, fall short of the ideal thus revealed, the Holy Spirit comes into play, nudging us (when we allow it) away from mistakes toward the Truth.

Here, then, are the rudiments of renewal, plain as weather: we know the goal and we know God’s provision for turning us toward it. Still, as in any crisis, renewal is going to be difficult. For both insight and encouragement, we might well note that renewal is going to be difficult, too, for contemporary Roman Catholicism. Within that communion, widespread sexual abuse, dating to long before Pope Francis, has led to more and more handwringing and intransigence, not to mention cynicism. The story so far is disastrous, but analysis of the story does point to a pathway for us.

In the November 22 issue of The New York Review of Books, journalist Alexander Stille explains how the present pope’s leadership is “now in a deep, possibly fatal crisis.” The church has so long turned a blind eye to sexual abuse, and so long protected guilty priests, that a “true housekeeping” would reach into Francis’ own circle of high-echelon allies and cripple his influence on the church’s future. Quite apart, moreover, from the abuse question, studies show that as many as 40-50 percent of Catholic clergy are, despite their vows of celibacy, sexually active.

This leads Stille to say that the ban on “priestly marriage” may be a key root of the sexual abuse problem. Celibacy, he reminds us, was not a firmly established requirement until — the twelfth century; it was also a requirement that ran counter to the advice of the apostle Paul, who said that “it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” What all this suggests is the need for re-assessment of the church’s sexual theology. The prospect for Catholic renewal hangs, then, on the church’s capacity for theological self-correction. Root problems must be rooted out.

Now consider our own situation. We all agree on the beauty of Christian unity, and we all agree that the risen Christ wants us to embrace such unity as one of his great gifts to the church. But over time ideas have crept into our life that have no basis in the New Testament, some of them directly pertinent to the present situation. One is belief that highly centralized bureaucratic control across the church’s many congregations and other entities is essential to Christian unity. Another is failure to see that baptism, along with the attendant gift of the Holy Spirit, is one and the same for all.

Nothing remotely resembling the point about church-wide control appears in the New Testament. Persuasion toward consensus happens, but no bureaucracy and no bureaucratic enforcement. Jesus himself, moreover, explicitly rejected the “lording-it-over” style; Christian leaders serve, they don’t control. As for baptism, as many as undergo it clothe themselves “with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” A similar point obtains with respect to the gift of the Spirit: it is from one God, and, as William Stringfellow said, it embraces the church in all its “diversities and divisions and separations.” In its several manifestations, whether as prophecy, healing, leadership or whatever, the gift comes without reference to whether the receiver is Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female. It is one gift, and it is for all.

About the time the current General Conference president was a seminary student at Andrews University, Gottfried Oosterwal, a teacher there, was publishing essays which became the book Mission: Possible. One of his themes was that the distinction between lay people and the clergy is itself ill-conceived. The New Testament speaks of no class of Christians called clergy; everyone belongs to the laity, or the people of God, including pastors and administrators. What is more, everyone belongs to the priesthood, or the priesthood of all believers. Nevertheless, even though these arguments were being offered while the current president was himself at Andrews, and even though no Adventist scholar has ever refuted them, those who are today insisting on “compliance” enforcement are also insisting that one class of believers, namely women, cannot ascend to the level of spiritual authority they themselves enjoy. They are even saying Adventist entities that put the biblical view into practice must be disciplined.

I have objected to this again and again, and have always invoked the “equality” of all as a key argument. But now I’ve learned that during the American civil rights movement the aforementioned William Stringfellow made a somewhat different argument with respect to the race-based discrimination then roiling the country. For the church, he said, the issue is not just equality but, even more fundamentally, unity. Unity is Christ’s gift to the church, and unity means impartial welcome and respect; it means the end of diversities as a basis for allotting privilege to some and withholding it from others. And Paul, it turns out, does indeed make this point. The single baptism by which all of us enter the church nullifies every self-aggrandizing appeal to human differences — “for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

In the name of restoring and preserving Christian unity, then, key General Conference leadership have broken with the New Testament doctrine of unity. All are the laity; all are the priesthood. No status conferred by the world can negate this, nor any fact of race or ethnicity, nor any biologically determined trait. This is the New Testament vision, an unmistakable echo of Genesis 1 and a truth indispensable, we may suppose, to any effort toward renewal.

In Roman Catholicism, beliefs hostile to the original vision turned into the misbegotten sexual “orthodoxy” whose evil fruit, says Alexander Stille, includes the scourge of priestly sexual abuse. Different beliefs, but ones equally hostile to the original vision, have become, for some General Conference leaders, an equally misbegotten orthodoxy. They now defend church unity by repudiating it. And we may be sure that for as long as their views hold sway, renewal, or at least church-wide renewal, won’t happen,

In our case as in the Roman Catholic one, the prospect for renewal depends on major theological re-assessment, or self-correction. Root problems must be rooted out, whatever the pull of convention or cowardice or sloth. The Biblical Research Institute and the church’s theological faculties, not to mention members of every Sabbath School class, should get on with the work at hand. Unless we open ourselves to Holy Spirit-directed self-correction, we risk sinking into a rut that must lead, sooner or later, to the death of the Advent Movement.

Charles Scriven is Board Chair of Adventist Forum, the organization that publishes Spectrum.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9201

Before his transfer to Andrews University from Philippine Union College, I took classes Dr Oosterwal taught for both undergrad and graduate students. One of the books he recommended for us to read was Yves Congar’s Lay People in the Church which was available for sale at a Catholic bookstore.in the city.


By creating compliance committees as tribunals, Church administration is aggressively sending the Advent Movement into a Scripture/Biblical crisis by eliminating women from the gift of spiritual leadership in the church.

Without women’s voices and the Holy Spirit, the Movement will be devoid of blessing and direction and will sink into fanaticism, irrelevancy, anti-Trinitarianism, and collaboration with a Protestant wing of Calvinism that excludes women from leadership.

This would be a form of idolatry, uplifting men and victimizing women in the name of Christ.

Those who wish Adventism to take this road will themselves be contributors to the death of the Advent Movement.


11/14/18 #7 (4)

Do you really believe Seventh-day Adventists could kill the Advent Movement?


Could the Jews prevent the birth of Messiah?

All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?



You are correct!! There will be no renewal within the Adventist movement until we dispense with clericalism, (and also with institutionalism).

Unfortunately, as much as the GC might hang onto a clerical paradigm so too does the NAD and its Unions. One very telling indication that the NAD still has work to do on this front is that the NAD message to Adventist women in ministry in the aftermath of the voting of the Compliance document was the fact that the NAD Ministrrial Association sent a series of messages to women clergy.

African Adventist pastors at times imagine themselves to be in a caste of their own - ecclesial chiefs. Latin American Adventist pastors model themselves and imagine themselves to be priestly holy men.

In like manner, many American Adventist pastors of both genders imagine themselves to be little more or less than professional holy men and women. Ordination here is often conceived of as little more than ecclesial professional certification.

All of the above belongs to the clerical paradigm and must be rejected

The A, B, C’s of Adventist leadership entail affirmation, blessing and consecration.

From the very beginning of the Salvation Army they boldly rejected clericalism. Until 40 years ago they did not ordain their officers. Unfortunately in 1978 they embraced an ordination theology and began to ordain as well as commission their officers. Many Army personel continue to protest again such a clerical paradigm.

From the very beginning of their movement Salvationists have commissioned both men and women equally as officers of the Army. Their first woman General served in the 1930’s. The other two Generals (equivalent to the GC President) have served within the last 30 years.


"Do you really believe Seventh-day Adventists could kill the Advent Movement?"

In the spiritual sense…yes. Those at the top seem to be doing their darnedest to do so.


The purge mentality of Ted Wilson is nothing new within Adventism, only the magnitude, method, and objects.


sinking into a rut??

It’s been in a rut for at least 40 years.

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Very well put. We should look at Jesus Christ our God, who how became human, God became one of us, so that we could see how much God loves us.


The future of the church rests not with compliance or arguments about it, but in individual members connecting with the Holy Spirit and being determined to minister God’s love in the ways He directs them regardless of whatever nonsense comes down from the General Conference.


laymovement ordainedlaity

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I am very disappointment with what is happening to our Church now, and for the past 8 years. It’s disgraceful.

Who would ever tell that the tearing apart would come from the top, from inept people who should be leading the Church forward but are instead taking the Church backward to Battle Creek - literally, and even with beards!


Thank you for that link… and a wonderful blast to the past full of wonderful friends.

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Try since the 1930s. If you look at the growth rate in the church that’s when you will see that line dropping significantly. Why? That’s when the church began assigning pastors over specific churches and the growing dependence on pastors that turned the “Great Advent Movement” into a society of pew-warmers who just think they are doing the Lord’s work. Expressed in mathematical terms, there is a direct, inverse relationship between the growth in church administration and overall growth. Fortunately, local churches can reverse this trend by minimizing the role of the pastor (I suggest going totally without pastors) and members taking personal responsibility for both experiencing the Gospel and spreading it.


The curtain in the Temple was torn from the top down.


It’s more than just individuals. Organizations, which the church is, have systemic issues that can hamper or even cripple their functioning. Such issues can also impact the effective impact of Holy Spirit filled individuals.

God is creating a people through the church, not just saving individual believers. If the church is sick on a systemic level, and this one is, then that needs to be addressed and remedied in a way that includes but also goes beyond just Spirit filled individuals striking out on their own with the gospel… which begs the question concerning the very nature of the gospel.

The gospel itself is more than individuals being saved for heaven. It’s about God creating a newly united humanity in Christ. How can a church body in a divided state, such as Adventism, effectively communicate this gospel? How can individuals who belong to this even authentically communicate it?




Ahh, ill-conceived is probably not accurate or at least subject to the idea of what the clergy was for. In simple terms if it was for the gospel and unity of believers it is ill-conceived. But if it is to form a hierarchy, a bureaucracy then it is very well conceived. The Roman Catholic church is a fine example. Bishops were about to vote on the sexual predators at their meeting and the voice from above them says hold on wait. Same with the Adventist church and it’s levels. Will adding a new group of people to the ordination bureaucracy really help things. No, it won’t it feels good it looks like it is social justice (a meaningless term if justice won’t cover it then who needs it) it may even limit some guilt feelings. But it is far from a reform and far from stopping the ill-conceived concept from carrying forward its true purpose.

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I don’t think the Jews tried to prevent the birth of the Messiah. I believe they failed to recognize his birth. Equally we fail to open our selves to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Yes, I believe we can, perhaps have killed the Seventh-day Adventist movement.


As goes the father so goes the son except the stakes now are higher—much higher—with a far greater potential to divide given the global nature of the church as compared with 1983. Both administrations have sought to invalidate the equality of women. But the mill of the gods grinds exceedingly slow but exceedingly fine.


The primary fault within Adventism is the concept that Christ is dependent upon the church to insure His return. Thus the assumed mandate to purify the Church. As it was in the days of Noah so shall it be in the coming of the Lord. recall the best God could find was Noah and his three sons. two of which the compliance committee would out. More exactly, the one son behaved more like Ted commissioned the committees to act.