The One Project's ecclesiological contribution analyzed

My most heartfelt desire is that The One Project leaders, laborers, participants and advocates along with those who find reason to question its conclusions would experience a unity in Christ as never before; and that examining and researching is just that. What it is not is personal attack, and if in the past questioning became its own stumbling block, now is the time to move on together in a direction blessed by God, speaking to the issues--good, solid Q and A.

Since the paper “Adventist Ecclesiology and THE ONE PROJECT” by Dr. Alex Bryan summarizes an explanation of its ministry, I’ll adapt some of the existing concerns to some of the points it raises; however, to be very honest, almost each sentence can be the heart of a much-needed conversation.

Addressing the aspect running through much of its emphasis, that as a church, Adventists do not hold Jesus central, informing of all; that it holds doctrine in higher esteem than Jesus, consider these representative criticisms made on page 4.

“If you are preaching Jesus this means you don’t care about unique Seventh-day Adventist doctrine.” 

“Preaching Jesus is on one end of the theological continuum and preaching doctrine is on the other.” 

“There needs to be a balance between preaching doctrine and preaching Jesus.” 

“Jesus is just one of many equally important doctrines.” 

“When are you going to move beyond preaching Jesus? This is an acceptable place to start but serious Adventists eventually move on to other things.” 

“A focus on Jesus is something all Christian denominations can agree on."

I believe a church chorus would meet each with a resounding, “No way; that doesn’t represent my belief nor most of those I know.” Rather, this reality speaks to each point: the Seventh-day Adventist church is one that believes that all of its doctrine is the very essence of Jesus; He is the defense of its doctrines; He is inherent in them all. Jesus cannot, in truth, be preached separate from the doctrines that define Him; conversely nor can the doctrines, in truth, be preached separate from Jesus. 

The denial of this reality seems to undergird the premise of The One Project and ultimately diminishes the distinctive beliefs that are the natural outgrowth of those doctrines.

Bryan states, “This apparently common hesitancy to embrace Jesus Christ as the ultimate expression and core substance of all church teaching and practice relegates Adventism to the diseased status as Christ-less (or perhaps Christ-lite) religious group.” 

A list of church-wide accusations compiled from this paper alone appears to form the basis of the ministry, the ministry itself consequently a kind of solution to the problem. But it would be argued that it is speaking incorrectly for an entire population. At best, these are hastily concluded assessments if not crafted ones to support a straw man controversy.   

In fact, within The One Project ministry and other like-minded ministries, there seems to be a kind of pre-determined, desired end in mind: a church that is informed and designed by Emerging Church theology because it is so in need of such rescue. The accusations then become a form of proof that a need exists for that end; but stating or accusing doesn’t make it so. Hence the birth of the straw man, fighting against it with all might, but never fighting the real foe. Saddest of all is the verdict that the necessary and appropriate weapons to reach the desired end are the devices of the Emerging Church, which become the very charges against their teachings and guidance.

Instead of addressing the concerns raised in the two books Bryan mentions in his short paper, my book Meet It and David Fiedler’s book Tremble, Bryan simply says these books cast a “dark light” on The One Project. His comments would have been much more meaningful if he would have taken the time to prove his case. This is one of the major concerns many have with the leadership of this movement; their hesitancy to address the actual issues and questions, and their tendency to simply accuse those who raised these issues of being critical.      

I will bring up a few of these issues that result in many finding it difficult to believe this movement could possibly have God’s approval. Bryan, Senior Pastor of the Walla Walla University Church, is considered the leader of this project, along with four other co-leaders whose story is told in the paper under review. This paper brings back the memory of how the complete bibliography for Bryan’s doctoral dissertation, over 100  listings of pastors, authors and teachers, consists entirely of those who believe in and teach the fundamental contemplative spirituality practiced by so many advocates of the Emerging Church; people such as Sweet, Willard, Nouwen, Foster, Manning and Eldredge. This current paper, like his thesis, cites similar advocates of Emergent theology. When he does quote scripture or make recommendations, they always seem to be in conflict with the beliefs held in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, as we will see, but are in accordance with the teachings of Emergent theologians like Moltmann and NT Wright, persuading one to conclude that these people are in reality Bryan’s true-life spiritual advisers. 

With earnestness and sincerity I hope he will come to see what he is doing and return to reliance on the Spirit of Prophecy for truth, not these Emergent teachers and pastors. It appears from what Bryan writes that he is either not familiar with all the counsel in the Spirit of Prophecy warning us of conditions where we are not to depend on the writings and suggestions of those who are members of the fallen, denominated churches, specifically those that would influence our spiritual lives and/or the mission of God’s church. Worse yet would be the rejection of this counsel. I pray this is not the case and he and the others who have this dependence on non SDA theologians and teachers (Dr. Leonard Sweet, Jürgen Moltmann, NT Wright & 100 others) will have a change of heart. Dr. Bryan repeatedly quotes and exalts, invites to church, praises, and recommends teachers, authors, and preachers who are advocates of the Emerging Church and who practice mysticism, as the ones most helpful to his personal spiritual life. The fact that he uses teachings for his own personal spiritual growth from those teachers who are members of the churches we believe constitute Babylon; those teaching a mixture of truth and error, indicates a resistance to God’s counsel and warnings, which plainly instructs us that under the conditions that Dr. Bryan admits to (will be explained), we are to refuse to “even to listen to their sophistries” (MR vol. 10, p163). Whether he is aware of this counsel or not, it has been, and is at his disposal.  

In order to understand and expose what appears to be part of the major problem with the project, we will address the specific issues raised in Bryan’s most recent document "Adventist Ecclesiology and The One Project." Let’s continue on with his own account of how the Universalist Jürgen Moltmann influenced their thinking, but do so after first considering Moltmann’s personal spiritual beliefs. The following paragraph is taken from Rick Shorter’s new book Nine Months Pregnant, primarily about the ordination of women in the SDA Church, but this paragraph contains valuable information concerning the beliefs of Universalists, like Jürgen Moltmann:

In reading the Great Controversy by Ellen G. White you will discover on page 541 and 548 the reference to the Universalists. What is a Unitarian/Universalist? They believe that everyone including evil angels will eventually be saved. It also teaches that all religions worship the same God, only in different ways. . . Ecumenism unchecked leads to inter faith, which will eventually move the church to Universalism.

Did you know the Universalists were the first major denomination to ordain women and they continue to hold the majority of any church of ordained women pastors. Approximately 30 percent or more of their pastors are women. The Unitarian/ Universalist website states, “UU ordination is open to men and women, heterosexual and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people of many different abilities.” Again, I ask the question, is this what we want for the Seventh-day Adventist Church?

Here are their beliefs concerning scripture as recorded in Wikipedia:

Both Unitarianism and Universalism were originally Christian denominations, and still reference Jewish and Christian texts. Today, Unitarian Universalist approach to the Christian/Jewish Bible and other sacred works is given in Our Unitarian Universalist Faith: Frequently Asked Questions, published by the UUA:

We do not, however, hold the Bible—or any other account of human experience—to be either an infallible guide or the exclusive source of truth. Much biblical material is mythical or legendary. Not that it should be discarded for that reason! Rather, it should be treasured for what it is. We believe that we should read the Bible as we read other books—with imagination and a critical eye. We also respect the sacred literature of other religions. Contemporary works of science, art, and social commentary are valued as well. . . .

So these are a few of the teachings from Moltmann’s church of choice. Consider now that he is the one Bryan says has shed light on their meeting in Denver, and that resulted in them changing the focus of their movement to Christology. Here is Bryan’s record of this experience from the paper under review:

Later that year, reading the German theologian Jürgen Moltmann, the meaning and significance of the Denver dialogue’s direction came into focus for me. He writes:

The crisis of the church in present-day society is not merely the critical choice between assimilation or retreat into the ghetto, but the crisis of its own existence as the church of the crucified Christ. The question of ecclesiology, however unpleasant it may be for conservatives and progressives, is no more than a short prelude to its internal crisis, for only by Christ is it possible to tell what is a Christian church and what it not.

These words clarified the not-so-subtle shift in our conversation: we had come to the conclusion that if our church was to have a life we needed, first and foremost, to shift the conversation to The Life … from church to Jesus. Ecclesiology was never going anywhere good until we talked Christology. How could we sit inside the sanctuary of the church of Laodicea all the while Jesus was standing outside the building, knocking and calling to be let in? Church talk before Christ talk, we realized, is putting the theological cart before the horse. Jesus must be first.

Bryan chooses to accept Moltmann’s definition of what the true church really is, that being any church among all the churches of the world where Jesus is present. But first of all, this is not what we as Adventists believe! All the churches Bryan accepts from Moltmann’s definition, which may contain some true churches where Jesus might be present, we have believed for 170 years are all the fallen churches of Babylon. Yes there are individual seekers in those churches who are a part of God’s true church, but the churches have fallen and if Bryan would have sought counsel in The Spirit of Prophecy he might not have made this crucial error. Secondly, it is important to note that Bryan does not believe Jesus is in the Laodicean church, but is outside the door of the church, a belief that does shed light concerning many of Bryan’s remarks and points of view. It seems he does not believe Jesus is leading the Seventh-day Adventist Church presently, and is knocking on the door to come in. Perhaps it is this outlook among the entire group that causes them to seek counsel from outside the church, believing that is where He can be found. This could be the misunderstanding motivating their desire for us to accept all these theories from the Emerging Church in order to save our church. In part two, we will look to inspiration to discover where the Lord is--inside or outside of His church, and where the door is upon which He is knocking.