I confess, I made up this word, at least half of it--along with my good friend Mark’s help. Two things were on my mind that night as we drove back to Ohio from Philadelphia. One, the monotonous sound that windshield wipers make after 200 miles, and second, I couldn’t believe that I had actually met the Archangel Michael in Philadelphia! The fact that he was out-of-uniform made it even more of a shock to me. We had just attended our first Adventist Theological Society meeting (1995) and “Michael” showed up unannounced. At least that’s who he said he was. A somewhat unkempt fellow with blue jeans and a scraggly moustache, he freely told all who would listen who he was. He also kept interrupting the speaker during the meetings. He was not a Michael, some Michael, or any Michael--no he was THAT Michael. We were speechless.
Fast-forward to the Pacific Northwest. On a trip there recently I learned about a new prophecy. Michael Jackson was not dead. Not only is he alive, he is with his aging father-in-law, probably eating boiled whitefish with mint sauce in Singapore. Elvis Presley. They are both waiting for the appointed time when they will come back and inaugurate the 144,000 in a world-wide revival! This will happen in 2012-–according to the uhhh...prophecy (I’m not making this up).
Then, my wife and I were in Houston at the 2011 GYC with our oldest son (Dylan) and his wife Amanda). As they were walking to the hotel one day, a fellow with a three-button* beard approached them and handed Dylan a tract about beards. He was a big fan of male facial hair, so much so that he was campaigning against the wholesale slaughter of beards & mustaches. Armed with a solitary verse in the Bible (Leviticus 19:27), our furry friend was doing his best to bring bewhiskered righteousness to anyone who would listen.
“Is this a salvation issue?“ Dylan asked him. “I think it is,” he replied. “Have you had any converts to this…uhhh…Beard-ology?” “I’m trying to convert people,” he admitted. “And a few are interested! There was this one fellow in the Atlanta airport, and I shared the truth with him, and prayed for him. Then the airline lost his shaver...so I know it was the work of God!” He was rather zealous. And rather wooly.
Each of these three stories is true and their themes lie dangerously close to (if not altogether beyond) the ragged edge of reality. In a time when we need the empowering story of the Everlasting Gospel, many strange stories abound. More and more people are developing their own private scoop and that brings me to the title of this article. (If you have a better term, feel free to share it. I’m open to suggestions.)
“Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned?” (Proverbs 6:27) Scoopism is a collection of private ideas, knowledge, interpretations, thoughts, impressions, notions or prophecies. In each of us, including myself, I believe there exists a temptation to hallow our own perspective even if it violates the Scriptural warning in 2 Peter 1:20. Most of us resist that temptation on the basis of humility, fellowship with other believers, and a profound respect for the balance we find in Scripture. But there are three other reasons for Scoopsim that I will explore.
Pride. Each of us struggles with pride–it was that one sin that caused the fall of Lucifer in heaven. When a proud heart is combined with fear and eschatology, it gives way to an almost unlimited display of theological innovation. Some of them are pretty bizarre. And dangerous.
Delay. The Adventist faith took shape around the central proposition that the same Jesus who made us and saved us is coming back soon. Forewarned in Matthew 24:48 & 25:1-13, we have to admit that there has been a delay in the Second Coming. The Advent Movement is confronted now by a situation unknown to its past. We are reminded of the notable statement published in 1909: “Great changes are soon to take place in our world and the final movements will be rapid ones.” I submit to you, this prophecy is fulfilled. Not until this century have we been required to cope with change so rapid, leading to ends so alien to Christian values, yet marketed in such alluring format. Peter foresees a generation laden with disbelief in Christ’s coming and saying, “Much time has passed, so why continue to believe?” This, I think, gives rise to strange new ideas and theories. Scoopism.
If this church distances itself from the sense of immediacy of both the continuing presence of Christ and the coming end of the world; it will lose the core of its message and mission. Assurance of Salvation. The last reason for Scoopism, is something that occurred to me recently. Many people are looking for assurance of salvation, a principle that eludes them for various reasons. Unresolved guilt, fears, and just negative-thinking in general can paralyze people and steal their peace. When peace leaves, it creates a vacuum. It hurts. And many things can flow into that vacuum as we grope for self-generated assurance of salvation. Enter Scoopism. Here is the amazing part: When my pet theories and ideas become my special auto-developed truth, then the fewer people that believe in it–the more saved I am! The ultimate goal then of this sanctified narcissism would be to get the believers of my special “truth” down to ONE PERSON. It’s bad when peace leaves our hearts, because our ability to love often goes with it. “In the last days men will be lovers of self…”
Solution. What is the solution to Scoopism? It is threefold.
We must humble ourselves in the sight of God (James 4:10). God is watching. We kneel down in His presence and repent of the pride in our lives. He will then lift us up and put us where we ought to be (v. 4:10b). When we are humble, we are useful to God (Psalm 10:17).
The custodians of the talents in Matthew 25 are in charge while the Master is away. What happens? He returns unannounced and says, “Bring Me your talents, and what you have done with them.” You know the rest of the story. It seems clear that Jesus intended us to occupy while busily doing His work, but ever living in the prospect of his soon return. This pattern builds maturity, and it sets the pace for the final generations who are commissioned for the task of bearing the Three Angel’s messages to the world. We don’t have time for Scoopism.
Ultimately, peace is missing from our lives because we have lost contact with Jesus. We may have stepped over the line of God’s Law or allowed lies into our lives, causing turbulence within. However it happens, the end result is a “Check Heart” light flashing on the instrument panel of our life. God allows this in His mercy–-to wake us up. When we Biblically resolve the issue that has stolen our peace, God restores two precious ingredients into our lives--peace and joy. With peace, comes blessed assurance as the song says, and with joy a renewed love for others.
*A three-button beard is a beard that covers the top three buttons of a man’s shirt. In my Anabaptist heritage, it is not uncommon to see three and four-button beards, and on rare occasions a five-button masterpiece.