Recently, I was stretched. If you have ever been there, you know what I am talking about. I was in a situation where it felt like I was possibly (probably) in over my head. It was one of those moments when I felt like something had to give, someone needed to do something. I didn’t know exactly what to do or how to respond, but I felt compelled to do something. I realized that in the act of preparing to respond and then ultimately responding, even though it was not an easy situation to deal with, I grew.
But maybe that is the point of being stretched. When we are challenged to think outside of our wheelhouse and engage with a situation or a topic that we are not comfortable sorting through, we create a fertile place to cultivate new thoughts on the issue in a way that allows for the creation of new conversations.
I was stretched when asked to share my thoughts on the topic: “How is the church today impacting the culture?” In the interests of transparency, I need to say that my initial reaction was a negative thought. I said to myself, is the church impacting the culture? I think it would be a much easier article to write if the question was How is the culture impacting the church?, which is exactly what came out of my mouth to the person who asked me to write the article. It was my reaction to the request. But as I have considered the question, and pondered it for a few weeks now, I wanted to respond to this important question instead of reacting to it.
I find that many of us tend to react instead of responding. We hear a question and we already have an answer before we have really thought through all the ramifications of our answer. We react. A healthy response generally takes time and thoughtful consideration.
So, how is the church impacting the culture? For purposes of clarity, the “church” in this article is not viewed as some institution or organization. The church in the context of scripture and in this article is, at its core, a people who have a faith relationship with Jesus. Also, for clarity, I am only addressing specifically how Seventh-day Adventist people are impacting the culture.
As Seventh-day Adventists, per our statement of beliefs, we have a couple of definitions when it comes to describing the “church.” One of those is the Seventh-day Adventist Church organization, the other is much broader. Belief number 13 of the 28 fundamental beliefs begins with the opening sentence, “The universal church is composed of all who truly believe in Christ … .” So, we believe in a universal church, or group of people who have a faith relationship with Jesus, regardless of what denomination they claim as their faith identity. Since that group covers a wide array of beliefs and practices, I will limit my article to how Seventh-day Adventist believers are making an impact on the culture in which they live.1
From the inception of the Seventh-day Adventist church in 1863, and as we celebrate 160 years of organization on May 21, 2023, its people have been advocates for cultural change where it was needed. Ellen G. White, Joseph Bates, and many other of our pioneers were staunch abolitionists in an era where slavery was an accepted practice. It was not popular to speak against such a powerful cultural institution, yet they did so with bravery and wisdom. The temperance movement also helped shape our fledgling denomination as many church members were speaking out against vice and teaching their neighbors about the benefits of healthy lifestyle choices. They spoke to issues of violence as well.
Fast forward 160 years and some of those same issues that the church was combating then, we are still combating now. Instead of tobacco, which has mostly lost its attraction to the culture today, we now are dealing with a Fentanyl epidemic. Instead of open slavery, we have human trafficking. Statistics tell us that there are more people enslaved today, estimated at 40 million people, that at any other time in human history.2
So, how is the church responding to these crises? Regarding the drug crisis and addictive behavior, we could react by saying something mean-spirited about how people just need to make better life choices, which would not be helpful. Or we could get together and do something big. I am proud to share that, as a church, we responded to the challenge instead of reacting and have established a global network of support. Local worship centers can establish a recovery group in their area to offer personal support to help those in their sphere of influence find a path to wholeness.3
Regarding domestic and other forms of violence, our church is responding as well. The global initiative End it Now, extending to more than 200 countries, is our effort to raise awareness and advocate for the end of violence around the world.4
There are many other ways that the church is impacting the culture as well. Things like food banks, assisting people who are experiencing homelessness, chaplaincy care, health seminars, educational scholarships, and, of course, offering spiritual guidance in local worship communities.
But there is always a tension that exists that we tend to not talk about. How should we respond to some of the issues we face in the context of a soon-coming Jesus? If the world is soon to end, and we believe that it will only get worse before it gets better, then how involved should we get with these issues? Are these things merely distractions that pull our time, efforts, and resources away from our core mission? I believe those questions are worth considering.
A reaction statement may be that we should just focus on sharing the gospel. A thoughtful response may consider all these questions and ask another question. Could it be that finding a way to get more involved with the people impacted by these issues is what our mission truly is at its core, to love God and love people? I believe it is.
How will we respond to some of the many other cultural challenges moving forward is yet to be determined. I pray that we respond like we have historically, from a place of deep love and commitment to God and the Great Commission, and with an abiding and deep compassion for people who are struggling to sort through this thing we call life.
Brandon Westgate is the RMC youth director. Email him at: [email protected]