By Tony Hunter … I’m going to plagiarize a few words. I suppose, technically, if I tell you that I’m plagiarizing and tell you who wrote it and from what book, it’s not plagiarizing.
You know, because of how words work.
Jim Butcher, the author of Blood Rites, opened his fictional book with these words from the main character, Harry Dresden: “The building was on fire, and it wasn’t my fault.” It’s a great opening line.
What’s not great is that they are the words that came to my mind as I pondered the theme of this issue, that theme being the difference between profession and practice within Christianity and, more specifically, Adventism. That opening line echoed in my mind as a metaphor for the denial of our part in a large problem, even as it echoes Adam’s proclamation that it wasn’t his fault.
It’s a great metaphor because we (Christians and Adventists) built this building. We lived in it with questionable consideration, did sketchy maintenance on it, and poured the gasoline on it as we saw fit, juggled with the implements of fire, and then ran around pointing at everyone else (those not-Adventists and/or anyone who disagrees with whatever) when the whole thing burst into flames.
We either said one thing but did another or lacked any sort of consistency in the spirit of what we said or what we did. And this is important, because it is often in the difference between what we say and what we do that lies, pain, chaos, and despair often exist. And that reality itself is distressing for many because it also speaks to expectation. The expectation being that an organization declaring certain spiritual truths about itself would conduct itself according to those spiritual truths. And when that inevitably doesn’t happen, we have problems.
This is because the difference between happiness and despair is usually expectation.
But perhaps this is being unfair. How can an organization with millions of members and a lot of cooks in the kitchen exist within any sort of consistent thought and action, and have any sort of real cohesiveness in practice?
That is a much larger issue that all organizations struggle with. But I’m not sure that the more spiritual issue is actually any smaller. That’s because the problem with there being a difference between what we say and what we do is one of identity and belief.
Who do we think we are, and do we actually believe it?
I’m not talking about the details of Biblical prophecy and the inconsistent Adventist interpretations, nor the details of the equally questionable remnant theology that still floats around our churches. I’m talking about something more fundamental and foundational to who any Christian claims to be.
Our identity is as children of the Creator, siblings of Christ, who are to be known by the entire planet by our love. Who are to love their neighbors as they love themselves? Who are to be willing to give the shirts off their own back to someone in need? Who are not to think ourselves better than anyone? Whose very religion is to care for orphans and widows? Who is to welcome those different than us with open arms into our homes and lives and communities?
I’m not putting the citations for those portions of the Bible in here. Partially, because I need to conserve my word count. But also, if anyone doesn’t recognize those words from your own Bible, you’ve just illustrated the problem.
As Christian Adventists, those words are our identity. That is who we are. And I’ve rarely met anyone who would hear that and disagree. But weirdly, that identity doesn’t always, or even usually, trickle down into our doctrinal theology and practice.
We claim to be a people of love, but have spent a ludicrous amount of money, time, and energy bashing Catholics, non-Adventists, non-Christians, and anyone who doesn’t see the Sabbath as we do.
We spend more time on prophecy evangelism than we do helping our communities. And no, our hospitals and ADRA don’t count. We don’t get to hand off our spiritual duty to others just because it’s easier to give them money.
In a typical prophecy evangelistic series (the primary way new Adventists are created other than by birth), out of the 4–6 weeks that the series goes, usually only 1–2 nights are spent on the core of what it actually is to be a Christian in terms of Jesus death and resurrection. The rest is spent trying to prove through Bible prophecy why Adventists are better than everyone else and why you need to be one to be saved.
You read that correctly. Sure, no one outright says you have to be Adventist to be saved. They merely try to point out that Adventists are the most correct, and then link that with remnant theology, a theology that says only those that conform to our version of Bible truth will be God’s chosen, therefore they need to choose us. Our baptismal vows are based on this idea. But, if as we say one is saved through Christ and Christ alone, then there should only be one baptismal vow and one message of evangelism: Jesus.
We say we are all one in the eyes of God, but then create differences between gender and race in church things and argue about those rights.
And don’t get me started on gender identity. We are so busy arguing about the “right” and “wrong” of it, that few are bothering to actually care for those in one of those categories because caring for others is apparently not as important as dying on a shaky and irrelevant theological hill.
If we are to be known by our love, but don’t show the world love, then either we weren’t teaching love, or we don’t actually believe love is who we should be.
The difference between what we profess and what we practice exists because we don’t actually know who we are and who we want to be. It also exists because we, as an organization, are spending more time and money on proving we are correct than we are on being an agency of love.
Proving we are correct, and being love, are not the same thing.
The tragedy is, if we focused more on being love to all humanity, we would automatically lend much more weight to some version of correctness.
But as it stands, we care more about the nuances of Sabbath keeping than we do the suffering of another human. And while that may not be true on an individual basis, it is what our corporate behavior suggests.
Act justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly. Those were the words of God spoken through the prophet Micah. Everything else was meaningless, it was suggested. If we actually do believe that God is love and that we should be too, that the world is supposed to know us by our love, then perhaps it’s time to just shut up entirely. Maybe the spirit of Christ can no longer rest in our words.
Perhaps it’s time to stop professing in words and let our hands speak for us.
To plagiarize and paraphrase: “Preach the gospel. And if needed, use words.”
–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: [email protected]