I grew up thoroughly indoctrinated in the disparity between two conflicting religious ideologies: Catholicism and Adventism. This conflict loomed largely throughout the landscape of my life, though I vainly struggled to put it in the background. For most of my young life, I expected the imminent, inevitable confrontation between these great religious monoliths just as our literature predicted.
In my early twenties I began dating a secular humanist whose world view clashed diametrically with mine, resulting in inevitable sharp talk as we attempted to reconcile our differences. I contended for my childhood views, realizing my utter inability to defend them in view of how out of touch they appeared with the issues of the day. I was consistently quoting Bible prophecy and this Ellen White. My boyfriend would reply, “Religion is irrelevant. Mankind will evolve into moral beings with more education. All we need is time. As for conspiracy theories and modern-day prophets, well, it’s obvious that is kooky.”
Fast forward to September 11, 2001, the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the financial collapse of 2008, the Greece Bailout of 2010, the earthquake and tsunami in Japan in 2011, the Philippines slammed by typhoon Bopha in 2012, and the recent Boston bombings. All the while, the Vatican sex scandals have been brewing, culminating in a complaint lodged with the International Criminal Court in September 2011, and then squeeze in the earthquakes in Australia, Haiti and Chile and recent school shootings.
I fail to see a moral evolution in the past decade, but rather, a progressive decadence. For every major event that has happened, I can think of a Spirit of Prophecy quote that rests in a book on a quiet shelf. Jesus Christ warns us through the words of Ellen White of a need to make a holistic transformation in our inner lives, our marriages, our parenting and our jobs and to warn those who are unwary to do the same. Lest the argument be advanced that Ellen White's writings are not relevant to our times and should not be held so prominently in our core beliefs, we find the same words iterated in the book of Jeremiah on the cusp of Israel's gruesome captivity. We've witnessed our message boldly stroked in global headlines of newspapers and magazines and highlighted in the daily news by those who are in complete ignorance of the messages of warning issued by a 19th century prophet.
How are Adventists occupying the time? What's changing in our church? We've become embroiled in creation vs. evolution, women's ordination, spiritual formation, homosexuality, and the list goes on. Tithe is down, disunity is up. Our church continues to shackle its very own in enormous debt, discouraging some from entering the mission field. But the most significant of all changes is we are changing our “spiritual interface” from the top down.
What does this mean? Back in the 1950s, our church had a brief dialogue with two evangelical men named Dr. Walter Martin and Donald Barnhouse who had written a book called The Kingdom of the Cults. Guess who was in the cult category? Yup, us truly. Dr. Barnhouse accused the SDA denomination of holding un-Christian views on the nature of Christ, the Sanctuary doctrine, righteousness by faith and of accepting Ellen G. White as the infallible interpreter of Scripture, thus putting us in the same class with cults like Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses, etc.
Instead of taking these charges as an opportunity to acquaint the evangelicals with the biblical basis for our beliefs, we quickly re-packaged our beliefs in a book called Questions on Doctrines (QOD). The QOD was a attempt to reinvent Adventism so the church could come more in-line with Sunday denominations and de-emphasize our unique biblically-based message. Eventually we were accepted into the mainstream, although we still border on the fringe of being a cult, according to Martin. This started or maybe deepened the conservative/liberal split in our church, and as the decades rolled by, our schisms have become more pronounced. Why? Because ideas lead to actions. What Christian ideology we are taught is what we carry out in our daily lives. The QOD subject is still a thorn in the unity of our church.
In 2007 the Adventist hierarchy had a new QOD panel at Andrews University to reassess if we were able to come together on those old topics: the sanctuary, Christ’s nature, or the Spirit of Prophecy. You can download the entire audio panel. It is tough listening and I am still slogging my way through many of the theological concepts discussed. My question, though, is why should we have cared what the Sunday churches thought of us?
My question is though, should our denomination allow other denominations to dictate our theology. Who gives us our commission? The purpose of our movement was to give the three angels messages to every nation, tongue and people. Nehemiah's commission was to rebuild the broken city and walls of Jerusalem, and in so doing, he was tempted to dialogue with neighboring religious brothers who did not agree with his methods. What was his response? Remembering that the very reason Jerusalem was in ruins was because Israel had fraternized with the surrounding nations and become one with them, he sought the Lord in prayer, worked day and night, and refused to dialogue with his neighbors. See Nehemiah 4.
As a distinctive protestant religion, we have dialogued with the Sunday churches and we have become no more original than they. As our church stands now, I don’t see how it is relevant to the world. The church isn't special anymore. Everything we do, everyone else does. And since we appear to be no more original than any other religion, I wonder about the relevancy of being a separate denomination and what we think we will accomplish by keeping this church alive in its present condition. Are we providing relevant answers to today’s concerns? No! We have been given the answers and we are not speaking up! It isn’t like we have anything to lose, we don’t have a pre-eminent position among the other churches, and we aren't a political force to be reckoned with.
What is the solution to our state? Fortunately, we don’t have to think up a response. We already have the script. It is laid out for us in the book Great Controversy. If we open up our mouths to repeat the script in the strongly worded language we have been counseled to speak, then we will be relevant. If we don’t, why do we exist?
Secretly, I have been laying all of my eggs into the kooky basket. By kooky, I mean accepting the messages of Ellen White, as inspired by Jesus Christ, without apologies. Secretly, I say, because I am scared to spread a message my life doesn’t reflect. Or, my life may reflect it today, and not tomorrow. Yet, as I survey the canvas of these past few years, I have decided there is never a more needed time to stand up for the original Adventist message, our relevant message, as given to the Adventist Church in the book Great Controversy. It is time to put away our watered down Great Hope and pass out Great Controversy or Great Controversy-like DVDs (I am partial to Walter Veith’s Total Onslaught series, myself). If we don’t, we will find ourselves swept away for a more relevant voice box, maybe even replaced by the more relevant “rocks” who will cry out.
I am the church, you are the church, what are we going to do about ourselves? Take to heart this passage from Luke 13: 6-9:
A man had a fig tree that was planted in his vineyard. He came looking for fruit on it and found none. He told the vineyard worker, “Listen, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down? Why should it even waste the soil? But he replied to him, “Sir, leave it this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. Perhaps it will bear fruit next year, but if not, you can cut it down.
My friends, if we do not warn the world with the straight warnings of the Lord, one day we, like the Israelites of old, will be carried away by a gruesome captivity, with no hope.