Religion is at its best when it makes us
ask hard questions of ourselves.
It is at its worst when it deludes us into thinking
we have all the answers for everybody else.
– Archibald Macleish
“Is Adventist Hymnal the only acceptable worship music in our churches?” asked a communication director from one of the West African Adventist Conferences.
“Or, can we sing our own songs, too?” he further asked.
You should have been there and listened to the heated discussion which erupted among the younger and not so young colleagues; a few humorous comments were supplied. One of them offered a background comment: “Pastor, we are serious. And in case you wish to know, tomorrow morning you will be preaching, and it is expected that you wear your full ministerial suit. But it will be very hot!” he said with a full grin.
As I listened and had little to offer as a definitive answer, it became obvious that “newness” and “change” will have a long road to acceptance in their culture. And it wasn’t only a cultural matter. Their heated debate was summed up by one of them: “What the missionaries taught us, we shall continue to do.” On Sabbath, I sweated in one hundred degree weather.
Today, I am asking myself, what is authentic in my religious experience? Is it what I learned when I was a kid or what I practice now, knowing more and living in a contemporary world?
Frankly, neither the hymnal nor what clothes we wear is essential to our religious experience. And more. Is it what I think and believe that matters or is it what one learns from the Holy Word and puts it into practice?
A colleague of mine frequently used an absurdly religious vocabulary even when mundane topics were commented upon. At first, I thought to myself, “He must be a very pious person.” I quickly learned that he failed to convince me about his religiosity. Just because one uses an abundance of religious words and concepts does not mean that you are religious.
A known author and retreat director, Fr. Thomas Dubay, concludes that, in the context of religious life, “authenticity is reality without sham.” He adds, “The human person is authentic to the extent that he lives the truth. He conforms his mind, words, actions to what is. His mind reflects reality, his speech reflects his mind.”
In the words of Jesus: Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven (Matt. 7:21, NIV).
In short, a Christian person keeps Jesus as the absolute example of what it means to abide in God’s truth. In a natural way, my personal authenticity as a follower of Christ contributes to the authenticity represented by the community I belong to. Adventist authenticity is reflected in who I am as its member.
Apart from the obvious Adventist practices, based on what we accept as doctrinal like any religious group, we also have a ballast of add-ons. But, depending on our cultural values and traditions, we aim to differ from others. Those differences are often kept as essential to our faith. We abstain from some stuff, and many an Adventist regard other things as salvific. You cannot be an Adventist if … [You can create your own list of do’s and don’ts that will truly exemplify you as an Adventist!]
We are authentic through our Scripture studies. We are mission minded. And, as Adventists, “you seem to have no time to lose,” as a clergyman from another denomination told me. “You are growing. We do not,” he explained.
Meanwhile, as in the blessing regularly shared at my church worship, “May Jesus bless you with courage, that you will dare to be who you are.”
Rajmund Dabrowski is editor of Mountain Views. Email him at: [email protected]