By Tony Hunter … What if one day you learned something new? How would you react to that? How would you incorporate that into your life? If you’re like most people, depending on how useful the new thing is, you would file it away in your mind and keep it handy for when it’s needed.
But what if that new thing you learned contradicted or disproved a previous thing you knew? What would you do then? Would you make the modifications to your knowledge base and alter your perspectives in order to incorporate this knew thing? Or would you pretend the new thing wasn’t true so that you didn’t have to change anything and, therefore, keep utilizing the old thing that you now know is false?
The question becomes, “How willing are you to change?”
This question always seems easy for Adventist Christians when it’s about someone changing to agree with the locally- accepted Adventist view. But when it’s the other way around, it becomes a serious problem. If an Adventist, or the group as a whole, were to learn something that so clearly and absolutely contradicted a previously accepted “truth,” it becomes a harder and more complicated question.
Adventists, like most people, believe they are people in search of truth. And like most people, it’s true. And also like most people, they believe the new truth as long as the new “truth” is the same as the old “truth” they already know.
Right now, some of you are saying an enthusiastic “Amen.” Others of you are unhappy with that statement and are looking for the editor’s phone number.
However, if we stop and think about it for a minute, it really does make sense. Humans tend to be resistant to change. Change implies accepting something new and letting something go. It implies an altering of our course, our minds, and our very perspective on reality in ways large or small. This is difficult because, thanks to the culture most of us were raised in, we tend to equate being correct or incorrect with being right or wrong. And we equate being right or wrong with being good or evil. Being correct or incorrect, then, becomes a statement of our own morality instead of a learning experience. And since Adventists are made up of humans, it applies to us just as much as anyone else.
This is true not just as individuals, but also on an organizational level, which makes sense since the organization is made up of those same individual humans who struggle with this dynamic. And as Christians, we get to add the concept of sin to it as well, which makes our reticence to change even stronger because once we start tying sin to it, we also start correlating it with salvation, or a lack thereof.
And suddenly, change is no longer about applying new learning and correction to our life, but about staying as rigid and unmoving as possible so that we don’t lose our salvation. Which really says a lot about how messed up our views of salvation are, but that’s a whole different article.
There is a reason that, in both Christian and non-Christian spiritual traditions, the Spirit of God is often symbolized by flowing or pouring water. Water that moves. Because water that stagnates breeds death. It’s unhealthy water. But water that moves is life giving. Water that moves adapts and alters the flow through its environment. Moving water finds a way.
One might argue that moving water, no matter how it adapts and flows, is still water and therefore unchanged. I would argue that, while the hydrogen and oxygen that make up water are unchanged, there are lots of other minerals in water that are picked up and dropped off at different times and in different places as it flows over, around, and through its environment that are part of what make quality water good for the soil and also good for the body.
If it doesn’t alter and change, water becomes damaging. And like water, if humans, including Adventist Christians, are not able to change, they will become stagnate and die, both physically and spiritually.
But let’s shift symbols. There is a story in the Gospel of John, Chapter 3, where Jesus is talking to a man named Nicodemus. During this conversation, Jesus compares being born of the Spirit to the wind. “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So, it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
This implies a number of things. It implies unpredictability. You go places and learn things you didn’t expect to. It’s a life of constant change. It doesn’t conform to the rules we want for it. It’s not always clean and orderly. Where we were and what we were yesterday may not be true for today or tomorrow. What we understood yesterday may not be what we understand today or tomorrow.
The Spirit doesn’t just bring change and demand change; it IS change. Maybe that’s why we fight the Spirit so hard. We need things to stay comfortable. To stay the way we are used to them being. And even though we know we don’t know everything, and we know our perceptions are flawed and our understandings fallible, we fight to keep our views as rigid as possible in an ever-changing world.
This mindset is so powerful, we even write songs about it, songs like, “Give me that old time religion.” It’s a mindset that demands that change never happen. But it’s the very word “religion” that undermines that mindset. Religion is a compound word that comes from first century BC Latin—“re,” a prefix that means “again,” and “lego” meaning “to read.” It is a word that denotes continual study. And one does not study so that they can remain the same; otherwise, there is no point in studying.
To say that we are religious is to say that we keep studying, keep learning, and keep growing. It says we are dedicated to changing. And as Adventist Christians, we believe in transformation. Unfortunately, we only believe in transformation as it conforms to how we’ve understood things in the past. But transformation isn’t only about the past; it’s also about the present and the future. What was good for us in the past may not be good for us now. Sometimes, we are only able to accept certain things, but later we can accept others, and it is the wisdom of the Spirit to see these things and find the strength to let go of what was, even if that thing is some deeply-cherished Adventist belief. Because it is God we follow first and always. Everything else can come and go.
If we want to grow and know God more and be useful in this world in any meaningful way, we absolutely must change. Let go of what holds us back and cling to that spiritual wind as it carries us forward.
This is the whole reason the original Adventists believed in a concept called Present Truth. The idea was that God will continually reveal new things to us through the spirit. The problem, though, is that this is the only part of the concept of Present Truth that we kept. Because the other part of this concept that the early Adventists understood was that we also had to be willing to let go of things we thought we had right and were certain about.
We can be so sure we are correct and still be incorrect. And that is okay. It isn’t evil. The first Adventists understood this. They understood that being wrong wasn’t evil. It was simply a by-product of learning and growing. To be an Adventist who believes in Present Truth is to both learn and to let go. To be a true Adventist is to embrace change, not fear it, and not condemn it.
As I said at the beginning, modern Adventists don’t like change. But it’s not too late for us. It’s time to learn new things, but just as importantly, it’s time to let go of old ones. You are not bound by someone else’s fear-based rigidity. You can make a new choice. You can walk a new path. Let the Spirit flow through you. Let its winds move you. You can be changed and be change. You don’t have to fear it because God is with you.
I say, give change a try. You just might get to see God do something new. And you just might like it.
Wouldn’t that be something?
–Tony Hunter is a Seventh-day Adventist pastor and a hospice chaplain working for Elevation Hospice in Northern Colorado. Tony and his wife, Nirma, live in Firestone, Colorado. Email him at: that [email protected]