21 Dec

WHAT MATTERS MOST IN LIFE? REFLECTIONS THROUGH THE LENSES OF RELATIONAL TRUST

The events in June engraved in my memory a lasting and thought-provoking question of what matters most in life when I visited my now-retired administrative assistant at Sydney Adventist Hospital. During our 12-year work-related association in the Ellen G. White/Seventh-day Adventist Research Centre at Avondale University, I watched Marian’s unreserved commitment to mundane office tasks, commendable support of students, and creative engagement in research projects. She was a joy to work with, a fun-loving person, and a committed Christian.

Soon after her retirement in 2017—amid a later life worthy of peaceful, restful, and enjoyable years of well-deserved rest—she was diagnosed with cancer. I recalled when Marian asked me to anoint her, seeking God’s intervention and healing. For the next five years, I watched her struggle with the wretched disease, praying and hoping for a miracle. Then one day, I was standing in front of her hospital room, trembling with anticipation, not knowing what to expect.

After moments of waiting, a nurse asked me to enter the room. Marian greeted me with her usual gentle, yet mischievous smile; the same smile routinely welcomed my arrival in the office. But now, there was something different about her demeanor, perhaps stemming from pain, frustration, fear—and hope to hang on a little longer to the breath of life. After a few moments of silence, I said, “Marian, how lovely to see you.” In return, she looked at me and said, “John, I am here to die. Would you conduct my burial service?”  The unexpected and upfront request stopped the flow of my thoughts. Spontaneously, I replied, “Of course, Marian, it will be my honor.” However, the momentary silence that followed our cordial, but emotionally loaded, greeting raised a question in my mind. After all is said and done, what truly matters in life when the music stops playing?

This sad encounter challenged the entire construct of my theological worldview. Momentarily, my thoughts drifted to the most essential elements of my faith expressed in the language that explains the mystery of God, defines the purpose and meaning of life, and articulates convictions about the future. No doubt, a clear understanding of set beliefs is indispensable. Erikson argues that it is “needful because of the large number of alternatives and challengers abroad at the present time.” 1

Immediately, our conversation shifted to the hope of the resurrection at Christ’s Second Coming (1 Thessalonians 4:16). Marian believed in the event, as did Martha during her dialogue with Jesus (John 11: 17-27). In response to His reassuring promise, Your brother will rise again, referring to Lazarus, Martha replied, I know he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day (John 11:23-24). But faith as a conviction immersed in definable expressions of hope may be very distant from the unexpected reality that interrupts the joy of life. However, it is essential, for like a bridge, it spans the abyss of the unknown, unforeseen, unhoped-for, and unwelcomed circumstances—the world of doubts, fear, and emotional turmoil amid the ongoing pace of life. The tension is fittingly wrapped in Martha and Mary’s experience during the death of their brother.

The sisters yearned for more than a definable construct of a logically outlined hope concerning a distant future event. The pain of loss invoked an urge for a different quality of faith embedded securely in relational trust, evidenced in the presence of a trustworthy friend, one who cared and was capable of healing. Thus, they both cried, If you had been here, my brother would not have died (John 11:21, 32).

I sensed the same pain in Marian’s voice. Her faith in Jesus resting on the foundation of His promised return, but her trembling voice seeming to say, “Jesus, why was I not healed? Where were you when I needed you most? Why do I have to depart from my husband, children, and grandchildren?” In this experience, Marian stood on the edge of the precipice, moments of perplexing tensions in life’s journey between faith so often conceptualized in logically defined doctrines and simultaneously experiencing the assumed silence of God’s abandonment. Luxton refers to such moments as “Living with Silence,” a space in which one longs for the comfort of God’s presence.2  The described tension in Marian’s crucial moments prompted me to examine the anchor of my faith and what truly matters in life.

So, What Truly Matters?

The Seventh-day Adventist Church meanders between varied perspectives on what constitutes the essential anchor of one’s faith in God. William Johnsson describes it as the fragmenting of Adventism. He reasoned, “We face pressures and factors today that would rip us apart as never before in our history. We face the possibility of schism more than any time since the Kellogg crisis ninety years ago. And these pressures of fragmentation will continue to increase.” 3

It seems that the complexity of life, embraced by existing fear and uncertainty, positions the church on the edge of the spiritual precipice. On one hand, the ambiance of the unknown and the need to adjust to the conditions caused by the rapidly changing world generate a reversed reaction, a need to express beliefs in clear doctrinal statements as a set of protective boundaries of security. On the other hand, the described milieu encourages a search for a meaningful adjustment to life and an understanding of faith as an implicit trust and confidence in God’s presence.

Discussions with my colleagues highlight the existing polarized tensions’ veracity. One responded, “What truly matters is that while I feel my life experience within Adventism has been toxic, and in many ways, destructive, there have been positives.” He connects the positiveness primarily with the essence of the Gospel, but “feels deeply distressed about how my lifelong faith community approaches that reality.”

Furthermore, what truly matters is “how to maintain a vital conscious connection with God and what I believe He is trying to say to me through a fog of my own making. What truly matters to me is the assurance that He doesn’t give up on me … . He is unmovable and persistent.” 4 A response from another colleague fascinated me: “My connection to God is independent of religion, doctrine, and theology.” He continues. “In the end, God is in control, and I trust the outcome. I don’t know how this will hold up under tragedy or trial, where my trust has not been tested, but I want to be faithful.” 5

Both examples demonstrate the existing tension between faith grounded in the purity of defined beliefs and the need for intimate relational connectivity with God, a relationship that generates a bridge of implicit trust in His presence. Erickson defines it as theology in which “truth and experience are related.” 6

The Anchor of My Faith

The story of Martha and Mary’s experience speaks to my heart as to what, in the context of my faith tradition, matters most in life. Both sisters stood on the edge of a confronting precipice, the struggle of faith in a time of need––the loss of a loved brother and the longing for the presence of a trustworthy friend. In such circumstances, movement toward the future is slow, painful, and emotionally draining. During that climb, one needs much more than a linguistically defined expression of hope; one needs an anchor that helps sustain the climb through the moments of living with silence.

So, how does Martha and Mary’s narrative impact my view of what matters most in my life of faith? First, Martha’s experience reminds me that my faith in Jesus must be anchored in a person, not just a descriptive event. I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies. And whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this? (John 11:25-26). In this context, my faith requires ongoing interactive relational implicit trust in Jesus. He is the bridge that carries my life over the troubled waters of life.

Second, Jesus knows when my faith undergoes moments of doubt, discouragement, and a seeming loss of His presence. Through Martha, Jesus sent a message to Mary:

Martha went back to her sister and said, “The Teacher is here and is asking for you” (John 11:28).

Third, Jesus empathized with the pain of human life and wept with the weeping (John 11: 33-37). He then demonstrated that our hope lies not in the descriptive details of the resurrection but in Him, the one who is the Creator of Life, the Conqueror over death, the Bridge of Hope and Restoration. He needs to be the center of all the doctrines. So, what matters most in my life of faith is my implicit trust in JESUS.

Addendum:

Soon afterward, I conducted Marian’s funeral. She loved Jesus. During our conversations, we focused on our hope in Jesus. In the last difficult moments of her journey, Marian anchored her faith in Jesus to hope for the resurrection.

John Skrzypaszek, DMin, a retired director of the Ellen White/Seventh-day Adventist Research Centre, is an adjunct senior lecturer at Avondale University College, Coranboong, NSW, Australia. Polish by birth, John takes a keen interest in heritage, spirituality, and identity studies. He is married to Brenda and has two sons Raphael and Luke. Email him at: [email protected]

 


1  Erickson, Millard J. (1985). Christian Theology. Baker Book House. p. 29.

2  Luxton, Andrea (2002). “Jesus and Ourselves.” The Essential Jesus, Eds. Bryan W. Ball and William G Johnsson. Pacific Press. p. 226.

3  Johnson, William G. (1995). The Fragmenting of Adventism. Pacific Press. p. 17.

4  Email Correspondence, 9/27/2023.

5  Email Correspondence, 9/28/2023.

6  Erickson, Millard J. (2013). Christian Theology, Baker Academic. p. 29.

24 Jul

SEARCH FOR AUTHENTICITY AND THE ADVENTIST FAITH

In his book Life of the Beloved and Our Greatest Gift, Henri Nouwen shares the experience of befriending a young secular journalist named Fred from the New York Times who interviewed him. During the interview, Henri felt great sympathy for the young man, for it seemed that Fred was ready to surrender his dreams by going through the motions of his profession. “He looked like a prisoner locked behind the bars of a society forcing him to work at something he didn’t believe.” 1 As their friendship matured, the conversations transitioned to a deeper level and became “[a] little less concerned about success, career, fame, money, and time; questions of meaning and purpose came more into the center of our relationship.” 2

One day, Fred challenged Henri to speak to his friends—individuals who, like many who walk the streets of big cities, possess great spiritual hunger and thirst, and no longer go to churches or synagogues.3 His request was simple, yet simultaneously thoughtful and reflective, one that moved beyond the need for definable constructs of beliefs, emerging as a cry from the depths of the human heart. “Speak to us about the deepest yearning of our hearts, about our many wishes, about hope—not about the many strategies for survival, but about trust—not about new methods of satisfying our emotional needs, but about love … . Yes, speak to us about something or someone greater than ourselves. Speak to us about—God.” 4

It seems that Fred’s request called for an authentic voice that rises above the boundaries of logically defined information about God. The invite sprang from the desire to understand the mystery of God from a voice immersed in an authentic relationship of trust and love—one that connects people with God. Sensing an intense depth of an inner emotional struggle on Henri’s face, Fred added, “Speak from that place in your heart where you are most yourself. Speak directly, simply, lovingly, gently, and without any apologies. Tell us what you see and want us to see; tell us what you hear and want us to hear.” 5 Fred called for voice authenticity, one that speaks candidly from the depths of the struggles to know and understand God.

Reflecting on Henri’s encounter with this young professional, I wonder about the meaning of authenticity in the context of my faith tradition. Authenticity means being genuine, sincere, honest, and transparent with oneself and others; aligning thoughts, feelings, and actions with core values, beliefs, and identity without pretense or façade. It requires humility and vulnerability to confront the challenges of knowing God on an ongoing prospective journey of faith (1 Corinthians 13: 9-12). Such faith’s authenticity collaborates with the challenging nature of the social, cultural, and religious environment. Simultaneously, it remains anchored to the object of Christian adoration—Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Peterson describes the named process as a daily—and even several times a day—return to “Square One,” the transforming, empowering, and primary source of relational authenticity. “We return to the condition in which we acquired subject permanence … . We adore and listen.” 6 In that sense, the Christian faith’s authenticity finds its locum in a relational attachment to Jesus. It means knowing, understanding, and sharing the values flowing from the depths of God’s love (1 Corinthians 13:1-8).

Adventism and Authenticity

The challenges confronting the Seventh-day Adventist Church in today’s changing world tend to lock the progressive nature of faith, beliefs, and understanding of God’s revelation into a retrospective and defensive mode reinforced by the call to return to the pioneers’ doctrinal beliefs, i.e., a revival of authentic historic Adventism. In October 2022, a group of 30 Seventh-day Adventist scholars participated in a conference titled, “Being the Remnant: Adventist Identity in History and Theology.” As one of the organizers noted, “It’s essential we talk about what it is that makes us distinctly Seventh-day Adventist, and then that we share that with the world Church.” 7 I contend that it is even more essential to reflect on how to make the Adventist voice authentic and relevant in the contemporary, dramatically changing world.

Rather than turn to retrospective reflections to secure distinctiveness and correctness encrypted in doctrinal expressions of the past, it is essential to recapture the spirit of the dynamic, prospective nature of the movement’s spiritual journey that progressively augmented Adventist pioneers’ biblically secured faith. Space does not permit examining the slow, complex, and progressive development of Adventist doctrines, but current trends toward adopting the traditional, and often literal, approach to interpreting core Adventist doctrinal beliefs—such as Creation, the Sabbath, the Fall, Salvation, Eschatology, the State of the Dead, and the Second Coming—frame the dynamic nature of faith into cognitive, static, and informative constructs of a Christian worldview. Within this inert framework, various views so often have swayed attention toward irrelevant discussions and arguments about “hair length, beards, pantsuits, dress length, makeup, jewelry, and Sabbath observance.” 8

In recent years, one has observed the divisive tension relating to “women’s ordination,” fundamentalism’s impact, and—even more troubling—the warnings against the practice of spirituality. Instead, to remain relevant, the contemporary Adventist voice’s authenticity must embrace and transmit the dynamism of the relational heart-to-heart transmission of faith in God and its ensuing values (1 Peter 1:18-21)—the Adventist heritage story’s foundational hub.

The Authentic Voice’s Prospective Nature

Discussing the attributes of the Adventist movement’s journey between 1850 and 1863, Beem and Harwood draw attention to the Advent experience’s specific character. “The spiritual life of the Advent people was shaped by opening their lives to receive the truth God revealed through the leading of the Holy Spirit and then by experiencing the joys of fuller dwelling within God’s design. The spiritual understanding was deepened, and progress made when individuals practiced their faith and put it to the test.” 9

More importantly, “They [the pioneers] sought God in prayer and meditation, searching the Scripture for further word from God. The spiritual confusion, distress, and discouragement needed to be met with clear evidence of God’s imprimatur on the movement.” 10 This description highlights the dynamic nature of the relational quality of faith grounded in spiritual life, prayer, meditation, an open-minded approach to Bible study and the Holy Spirit’s influence. It generates spiritual growth in understanding the truth that surged from God’s revelation. Moreover, it empowers believers to practice faith and test God’s presence in the surrounding reality of life. Such faith engenders authentic voices empowered to share God from the heart-to-heart stance.

Ellen G. White’s voice continued to encourage the movement to focus on the Christian experience’s spiritual nature—a prospective journey of faith to a specific destination. In her understanding, such life “will breathe out fragrance and will reveal a divine power that will reach men’s hearts.” 11 As she argued, it’s no wonder that “Christ is the center of all true doctrine. All true religion is found in His word and in nature. He is the One in whom our hopes of eternal life are centered.” 12 In this context, to remain relevant to this messed-up world’s needs, the Church must raise its vision beyond the boundaries of its doctrinal distinctiveness and embrace and transmit the vitality of the relational heart-to-heart sharing of faith anchored in Jesus.

The prophetic voice of the past uplifts this visualization as an ongoing source of spiritual remedy. “In the time of confusion and trouble before us, a time of trouble as has not been since there was a nation, the uplifted Savior will be presented to the whole world in all lands that all who look to Him in faith may live.” 13  Voices around us seem to cry out, speak to us about something or someone greater than ourselves. Speak to us about God, but what does it mean practically?

Concluding Reflections

Amid today’s political, social, religious, and family dysfunctions, people are skeptical about structures built on failed promises. There seems to be a demand for values that enhance comfort, courage, and a sense of secure belonging, as well as foster authentic identity, purpose, and hope. The prevailing milieu provides an opportunity for the Church to shape the story of Creation, Salvation, and future hope in a new and refreshed way—not from the space of isolated doctrinal distinctiveness, but from life reflecting the values and qualities shared by Jesus. It calls for a voice that connects people with God, a space that offers genuine authenticity and transformational change.

John Skrzypaszek, DMin, a retired director of the Ellen White/Seventh-day Adventist Research Centre, is an adjunct senior lecturer at Avondale University College, Coranboong, NSW, Australia. Polish by birth, John takes a keen interest in heritage, spirituality, and identity studies. He is married to Brenda and has two sons Raphael and Luke. Email him at: [email protected]


1  Nouwen, H. (2002). Life of the Beloved and Our Greatest Gift. Hodder and Stoughton, London. p. 11.

Ibid., p. 15.

Ibid., p. 17.

Ibid., p. 18.

Ibid., p. 20.

6  Peterson, E.B. (1997). Subversive Spirituality. Eerdmans Publishing, p. 30.

7  Koch, I. “Conference at Andrews University Explores Adventist Identity.” Adventist Review, October 27, 2022.  https://adventistreview.org/news/conference-at-andrews-university-explores-adventist-identity/

8  Moncrieff, S. Spectrum, March 25, 2022. https://spectrummagazine.org/arts-essays/2022/authentic-adventism-places-faith-denomination

Beem, B. and Hanks-Harwood, G. (2006) “My Soul is on the Wings for Glory.” Andrews University Studies. Volume 44, No 1, p. 166.

10  Ibid., 160.

11  White, E.G. (1940). The Desire of Ages. Pacific Press. p. 363.

12  White, E.G. (1913). Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students. Pacific Press. p. 453.

13  White, E.G. (1904). Testimonies for the Church. Pacific Press. Vol. 8, p. 50.

24 Apr

IN THE WORLD, NOT OF THE WORLD, SENT TO THE WORLD

How effective is the Seventh-day Adventist Church in revealing the principles of God’s kingdom of grace in contemporary society through the committed integration of its members in the life of communities? Are the church members acknowledged in their cultural milieu as “people who are always talking about Christos, the Christ people, the Christians”?1  How do Jesus’s words I have sent them into the world (John 17:18) align with the main focus of the church’s mission?

Sent to the World

In response to Christ’s challenge in Matthew 24:14, the Seventh-day Adventist Church solemnly proclaims the gospel with ardor. The task’s urgency generates an ongoing drive toward innovative programs, alternative methodologies, and tireless efforts to reach people’s hearts. The command to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19) signifies its reason for existence and the pinnacle of the church’s mission. Consequentially, the church engages in spirited activities to produce numerical growth as justifiable evidence of its organizational success.

However, Jesus’s imperative command “to go” calls for a more profound sense of engagement. While it directed the disciples’ minds to a precisely defined future responsibility, the same phrase, to go, in Matthew (28:7; 28:10) challenged the disciples to experience a retrospective reflection of lost vision, a journey toward a renewed commitment to the resurrected Jesus and a revitalized meaning of His death and resurrection. Before they could cross cultural boundaries and engage in the mandate of making disciples of all nations, they had to grasp the nature of God’s mission to the world expressed by Jesus (see John 3:16). The instruction was clear: Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me (Matthew 28:10). In this post-resurrection encounter, the disciples would recapture the crux of the gospel, the living Savior whose relational presence heals the pain of shattered dreams.

The heart of God’s mission to the world entails more than sharing a tantalizing story. Kraft asserts that “[t]he fact that God became a human being to reach human beings is not only relevant as a technique for putting his messages across […] Christianity is Someone to follow, not simply information to assimilate. And that Someone came in love and power, demonstrating God to humans.” 2 In other words, Jesus is the focal point of God’s mission to the world.

For this purpose, Jesus framed the designated task of sending disciples to the world in the context of God’s designed purpose. Jesus prayed, As you [Father] have sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world (John 17:18). In Matthew’s narrative, the use of the word “go,” in both its imperative command and reflective context, modifies the church’s urge toward frantic activities driven by responses to cultural and societal demands and values and often self-glorification. It calls for renewed reflection on the church’s purpose in the world. Lesslie Newbigin reasons that “[t]he church exists not for itself and not for its members but as a sign, agent, and foretaste of the kingdom of God.” 3 In this context, the news about the resurrected Jesus is not a neatly packaged Christmas story to be placed habitually under the glittering lights of the Christmas tree. It stands for life, a different quality of life wrapped in hope, acceptance, forgiveness, restoration, identity, and purpose. To go means to absorb the full passion of God’s heart, with which “it is impossible to give faithful witness to the gospel while being indifferent to the situation of the hungry, the sick, the victims of human inhumanity.” 4 It means to serve the world as Jesus served: in the marketplaces, businesses, places of education, people’s homes, and even on the streets.

A few years ago, a secular-minded respite nurse who attended my aged and blind mother-in-law discussed the purpose of Christmas festivities with my wife. Brenda shared with her the Christmas story—the Jesus story. To her surprise, the nurse asked, “But who is Jesus?” Her response awakened the realization of our lack of awareness to understand the reality of the existing cultural barriers.

The members of the church who are invited, as were the disciples, need to step bravely into the depth of human ignorance and brokenness with a refreshed passion discerning the cultural beat of people’s hearts, songs of lost dreams, and respond with “the same relational message he [Jesus] carried—to love as he loved, to accept as he accepted, to free people from demons and other types of captivity as he freed, to speak as he spoke.” 5 In other words, the church is not called to just disperse doctrinal information about God, but to integrate the principles of Jesus’s life in every facet of life experience—to be in the world, but not of the world and to make Jesus known.

In the World? Really, What Have We Missed?

A reflective analysis of the church’s influence on contemporary culture in the Western world exposes a challenging disorder in its missional pursuits. A recent report on “Community Perception of the Seventh-day Adventist Church” in Australia and New Zealand highlights the nature of the problem.6 The results of the study are staggering. One-third of the survey participants said they knew nothing about the Adventist Church. Despite all the efforts to evangelize and share the good things Adventists offer in education, health, and service activities, the church struggles with community awareness.

When asked what three words came to mind when thinking about the church, most participants were baffled, but the most common response was “none,” followed by “unfamiliar” and “different.” Further, 70 percent of New Zealanders and 66 percent of Australians believe that the Adventist Church emphasizes doctrine more than relationships.7 In the report’s opening statement, Tracey Bridcutt asserts that the “Adventist church has a significant identity issue and needs to seek opportunities to help people understand its relevance.” 8 In the report, the South Pacific Division President remarked, “Our God and His message do need to connect with people.” 9

How can the church maintain a distinctive identity and, at the same time, enhance its connection with contemporary culture? Suffice it to say, the problem is not a lack of missional activities through various programs, the production of resources, or claims of accomplishments. Still, maybe amid all the haste and well-intended activities, the church has lost its focus on the nature of God’s mission.

Not of the World

Jesus’s prayer in John 17:1–25 confronted his followers with a challenging pragmatic paradox; namely, the vision of a Christian life immersed in a world of different values, behavioral principles, and cultural practices, but a world that Jesus inundated with the qualities flowing from God’s kingdom of grace. Jesus’ announcement about his departure, I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world (John 17:11), placed his followers in such an existential reality, but with a sense of a revived identity entrenched in God and Jesus. So, Christians are not of the world, but as Christ’s followers, they are entrusted with a unique message.

As Kathy Howard observes, “Our goal as the followers of Christ is to actively engage our culture with the Gospel without allowing the culture’s ungodly morals, values, attitudes, and behaviors to infiltrate our lives. Unfortunately, many Christians struggle to get it right.” 10 Others tend to isolate themselves from the cultural influences hiding in spaces of holiness, assuming it is easier to live by God’s standards.11

One may ask, “Is it then possible to consider that the lack of an expressed secure identity generates a cover-up in the form of overactivity and attempts to define the passion of God’s heart in terms of doctrinal purity and theological arguments?” Leon Morris maintains that “to know God means more than knowing the way of life.” 12 In other words, it means more than providing a chart of alternative views. He argues that “[t]o know Him transforms a man and introduces him to a different quality of living. Eternal life is simply the knowledge of God.” 13  The heart of the Christian identity and empowerment for discipleship and mission flows from God’s heart (see Romans 5:1–5).

Conclusive Reflection

Jesus’s invitation to go and make disciples of all nations, framed in the experience of a retrospective reflection of the lost vision, challenged his followers to recapture the joy of His presence, a restored sense of forgiveness, identity, and acceptance. Jesus said, I am still in the world so that they may have a full measure of my joy within them (John 17:13). The refreshed vision of Christ’s incarnational mission, raised in the disciples’ minds a view of a “journey to unknown places where they encounter God’s presence in a new way.” 14 In this spirit, Jesus inspired them to cross the barriers of relational and religious isolation, doctrinal purity, and cultural and national differences to build bridges of trust, unconditional friendship, and acceptance in places where God’s Spirit is already at work—the everyday cultural marketplaces where people walk and talk. Perhaps this is the lost vision the Seventh-day Adventist Church needs to reclaim and restore.

John Skrzypaszek, DMin, a retired director of the Ellen White/Seventh-day Adventist Research Centre, is an adjunct senior lecturer at Avondale University College, Coranboong, NSW, Australia. Polish by birth, John takes a keen interest in heritage, spirituality, and identity studies. He is married to Brenda and has two sons Raphael and Luke. Email him at: [email protected]


1  Bruce, F. F. (1979). Commentary on the Book of Acts. Eerdmans, p. 241.

2  Kraft, C.H. (1999). Communicating Jesus’ Way. William Carey Library, p. 47.

3 Newbigin, L. (1989). The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society. Eerdmans, p. 136.

4  Ibid.

5  Ibid.

6  Bridcutt, T. (2022, October 14). “Community Perception of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.” Record. https://record.adventistchurch.com/2022/10/14/community-perceptions-study-highlights-areas-of-opportunity/

7  Ibid. The study was commissioned by the South Pacific Division and was been conducted over a decade ago by McCrindle, a Sydney-based research company.

8  Ibid.

9  Ibid.

10  Howard, K. (2022, June 24) ”What does it Mean to be in the World but not of it.” Crosswalk. https://www.crosswalk.com/faith/spiritual-life/what-does-it-mean-to-be-in-the-world-but-not-of-it.html

11  Ibid.

12  Morris, L. (1971). Commentary on the Book of Acts. Eerdmans, p. 719–720.

13  Ibid.

14  Hirsh, A. (2006). The Forgotten Ways.  Blazen Press, p. 221.

31 Jan

REFLECTION ON BEING A SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTIST

During one of my recent presentations, the interviewer posed the question: Do you consider yourself a liberal or conservative Seventh-day Adventist? Momentarily, the spontaneous and direct question stopped the flow of my thoughts, steering them toward in-depth personal cogitation. 

First, I wouldn’t say I appreciate being labeled. The confrontational nature of comparable questions reverts my mind into defensive alertness—a space of fear of being exposed to the darts of criticism, stifling the freedom to think freely and creatively. However, this momentary hiatus elicited soul-searching rumination on my beliefs, particularly my understanding of God’s self-revelation through Jesus as applied to my life’s journey.  

Second, the notion of conservatism scares me, as it tends to view the pathway of faith from a retrospective perspective that confines God to doctrinal expressions locked in time, a space of assumed security so often submerged in static boundaries of human assumptions, rather than a dynamic mystery of God who acts according to His will and mercy. As Quartey argues, “The core idea of conservatism—together with its close cousin, fundamentalism—is preservation: holding on to an idealized past in hopes of transmitting it “unadulterated” to future generations.” 1  The focus on preservation induces conservative, safeguarding, and replicative attitudes governed by the spirit of hegemony to secure established beliefs through compliance and control.

Consequently, the named qualities mold the progressive dynamism of faith into static informative expressions detached from its relevance to contemporary life. Simultaneously, the spirit of safeguarding generates an addictive power over what often is rationalized as the required capacity to defend the truth—a stance to “preserve a pristine or desirable past.” 2 

In contrast, my spiritual journey prompted me to engage with the progressively changing world in its social, cultural, environmental, and political domains. It empowers me to discern God’s presence in the turmoil of my doubts, failures, pain, disappointments, shouts of whys and scary moments of loneliness to understand His silence. This is my world, the world of today, the world embracing my life—a thirst to know and understand that God moves beyond the need to ensconce beliefs in the iconic vestiges of the past and habitual religious practices that tend to shape the patterns of religious addiction, i.e., habitual practices and rituals removed from the pathway of my struggles. 

Dale S. Ryan and Jeff VanVonderen described this space quite adequately: “At its root, religious addiction begins when our faith stops being about a spiritual connection with God and becomes instead an attempt to control our lives—or to control God—by behaving in certain ways.” 3  In that sense, I’m not a conservative Seventh-day Adventist, but I’m respectfully appreciative of my heritage and beliefs for another reason.

I connect with the story of the Seventh-day Adventist movement, which shaped the pioneers’ faith and recaptured inspirational experiences encoded in the narratives, rites, and images that transmit the passion of lives once lived—stories associated with struggles to understand God in the context of the pioneers’ time and culture. For this purpose, I immerse my thoughts in the memory lane of time. On this point, Halas defines memory’s fascinating and dynamic nature and function: “Memory consists of communicative acts transmitting reflexive knowledge about the past from the perspective of a future present.” 4  

Her view’s significance rests in the fact that this proposal no longer defines memory as turning exclusively toward the point in time locked into the distant past. It also highlights its dual function. She proceeds to make a compelling point: “Memory cannot be reduced only to a set of ideas about the past because it is linked with action and, thus, with an orientation toward the future.” 5 In her understanding, the ensuing reflexivity is not merely a static recollection of past events and beliefs, but rather a memory that determines “the transmission of meanings which will be formative for the future.” 6 For a moment, let’s review the story of how the past relates to the present in the context of a lived experience.

The pioneers’ lived experience.

Circa 1862, a time when the Seventh-day Adventist movement was experiencing transitional struggles to establish its identity, Ellen G. White made a fascinating observation: “We cannot be accepted or honored of God in rendering the same service, or doing the same works, that our fathers did. In order to be accepted and blessed of God as they [the forerunners of her generation] were, we must imitate their faithfulness and zeal—improve our light as they improved theirs—and do as they would have done had they lived in our day [emphasis added].” 7 Here, she stressed the interconnected relationship between the past and present. 

Simultaneously, her view highlighted elements of discontinuity concerning sameness as applied to the future present. In her mind, the memory of the past was critical, for it provided essential inspiration necessary for the ongoing progression of faith. This encompassed faithfulness, zeal, and a struggle to shape the contours of faith in the context of its time. However, in her understanding, faith moves beyond the boundaries of established beliefs encoded in the verbal expression of a particular generation, to a living faith relevant to its time and place. 

The depth of such spiritual experience translates into a meaningful contextualization of God’s presence in the fabric of human life, i.e., such a process enhances space for new negotiations, meditation, motivation, and nurturing that, in turn, builds the drive toward a meaningful comprehension of God and the passion of His heart. In this context, I’m not a conservative Seventh-day Adventist, nor a defender of truth, but an open-minded believer endeavoring to make sense of God’s presence in the history and complexity of life TODAY. Does this position make me a liberal Seventh-day Adventist?

Given the expressed thoughts, my understanding of the spiritual journey may align me with the freedom and attitude of liberty that I take to question traditional or orthodox positions and the emerging religious fundamentalism in my faith tradition. However, in the context of religious liberalism, determined to be emancipated from supernatural demands and the authority of the Bible as the source of God’s inspired revelation, I do not view myself as a liberal Seventh-day Adventist. Allow me to share a succinct response.

The history of Seventh-day Adventist heritage suggests that one of the foundational pioneering voices of the movement, Ellen G. White, maintained an open-minded and progressive understanding of God’s revelation. She maintained that growth in understanding God’s grace contributes to a clearer understanding of His Word, but that a decline in spiritual life tends to impact the advancement of truth. Her conclusion was rather enlightening: “Men rest satisfied with the light already received from God’s word and discourage any further investigation of the Scriptures. They become conservative and seek to avoid discussion.” 8 Furthermore, she added, “There is no excuse for anyone taking the position that there is no more truth to be revealed, and that all our exposition of the Scripture (is) without an error. The fact that certain doctrines have been held as truth for many years by our people is not proof that our ideas are infallible.” 9 Recapturing such inspirational guidance encoded in the pages of history motivates me to adopt an open-minded, progressive, and liberal approach to my understanding of God. 

But more to the point, an essential question requiring attention is: Am I identified as Christian, a follower of Jesus? In this context, Ellen G. White challenged the Church to recapture the memory of Jesus’ story as a historical event and a transformational motivator oriented toward the future. She wrote, “To all who profess to be Seventh-day Adventists, I would say, ‘You are entitled to the name of Christian only as you employ your talents in harmony with the plan of the Lord Jesus Christ, only as you are co-workers with God. The life of Christ is the only pattern that is safe for us to follow.’ ” 10  The outlined focus on a faith-oriented relationship with Jesus impacts my view of the origins of human life—its present purpose—and imparts my life with hope, providing a sense of security and inspirational motivation to embrace life’s journey with a renewed view of God that always is open to a deeper understanding of His love. 

A relationship with Jesus imparts boldness to relinquish status-quo traditions to embrace a contextualized and refreshed, but biblically grounded meaning of faith. It transforms the concept of leadership influence from a defensive, prescriptively authoritarian, and informative mode to an inspirational voice calling on people to visualize the incomprehensible benefits of God’s kingdom of grace. Thus, I wouldn’t say I appreciate being labeled as conservative or liberal, for primarily, I identify as a Christian, a Seventh-day Adventist, an open-minded believer, and a progressive thinker on a journey of faith with Jesus. 

John Skrzypaszek, DMin, a retired director of the Ellen White/Seventh-day Adventist Research Centre, is an adjunct senior lecturer at Avondale University College, Coranboong, NSW, Australia. Polish by birth, John takes a keen interest in heritage, spirituality, and identity studies. He is married to Brenda and has two sons Raphael and Luke. Email him at: [email protected] 


1 Matthew Quartey, “The Paradox of Conservative Adventism,” https://spectrummagazine.org/views/2020/paradox-conservative-adventism 

2 Ibid.

3 Dale S. Ryan and Jeff VanVonderen, “When Religion Goes Bad: Part 2 Religious Addiction.” https://www.nacr.org/center-for-spirituality-and-recovery/when-religion-goes-bad-part-2-religious-addiction 

4 Hałas, Elżbieta. (2010). “Time and Memory: A Cultural Perspective.” TRAMES, 14(64/59), 314.

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid.

7 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View: CA, 1948), 262.

8 Ellen G. White, Gospel Workers (Washington: D.C.: Review and Herald, 1915), 38.

9 Ellen G. White, “Christ Our Hope” Review and Herald (December 20, 1892), para 1.

10 Ellen G. White, Lt 9, 1905.

21 Oct

JESUS: THE CHAMPION OF AUTHENTIC SPIRITUALITY

This topic explores the spiritual quality of discipleship in Christ’s well-known Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1–12) and Ellen White’s description of the spiritual journey. The subject of spirituality unveils a plethora of perspectives, definitions, and practices. Reflecting on the amassing of existing landscapes, Richard Wolman maintained that “Spirituality in the contemporary culture is a designer spirituality, tailored to the needs of individual tastes and preferences.”[1] Yet, for many, spirituality provides an escape from the traditional form of religious practices bound by rules, traditions, demands for conformity, and a lack of authentic Christ-like attitudes.

Juliette Lee described her experience as follows: “The church was a highly hypocritical institution that preached about things like loving and accepting everyone, giving to those in need, and trusting God—because this is what Jesus did.”[2] Then, she touched on the core of the crucial problem. “Yet I saw and heard groups of women congregating in the back pews gossiping about each other; I saw those with the most to give cling to their wallets and look away; I saw people leave the church angry at God for the plans he was ruining. At the end of the day, the church succeeded in telling me who Jesus was and who I should be but failed to follow its own practice.”[3] The story is one of many I had heard from students in my classes and people in my pastoral ministry.

Such a scenario is not very different from the world Jesus embraced to engrave on the pathway of life the authentic nature of spiritual discipleship. Matthew’s gospel outlines the beginning of Christ’s Messianic ministry in the context of religious abuses devoid of spiritual authenticity. The broader context of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount addressed the superficial understanding of God’s principles. “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago […] but I tell you […]” (Matthew 5:21–22; 27:28; 33–32; 38–39; 43–44). He spoke against the superficial practice of religiosity, showmanship, and hypocrisy (Matthew 6:1–3; 16–18). He warned about the danger of judgmental attitudes (7:1–6). Instead, as He spoke to His disciples, the central theme of His teaching aimed to build a foundation for spiritual authenticity in God’s mission in the world (Matthew 4:18–21); namely, the spiritually transformational nature of discipleship.

Matthew’s narrative juxtaposes the spiritual hypocrisy with Christ’s call to discipleship: “Come follow me … and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19), between two purpose-oriented descriptions of His all-inclusive missional activity (Matthew 4:12–16;23–25). The impact of His sensitive attitude to human needs engendered a movement of attraction (Matthew 4:25). What followed is fascinating, inspirational, and thought-provoking. The descriptive narrative of Jesus’ ministry swayed attention from His successful activity to a reflective stopover that determined what truly matters in God’s mission in the world. He then began to teach the disciples (Matthew 5:1).

David Bosh argued that in Matthew, Jesus’ teaching is “by no means an intellectual enterprise,”[4] outlining specific details of successful methodology. He continued to suggest that Jesus’ teaching is not an “appeal primarily to the intellect; it is a call for a concrete decision to his listeners to follow him and to submit to God’s will … as revealed in Jesus’s ministry and teaching.”[5] For this purpose, the Beatitudes contrast with the aforementioned religious practices and highlight the spiritual and transformational nature of discipleship.

The Beatitudes and the Spiritual Nature of Discipleship

The structure of the Beatitudes draws attention to a specific objective. First, Jesus positioned the qualities of discipleship, the poor in spirit, the meek, the pure in heart, and the persecuted (Matthew 5:3,5,8,10) in the secure space of the kingdom of heaven–“theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3,10). Millard Erickson argued that Matthew used “heaven” as a synonym for the Kingdom of God in writing to a Jewish audience.[6] The four Beatitudes expressed in the present active voice placed discipleship in the space of God’s life-transforming activity and secure assurance of the gift–the Kingdom of God.

George Eldon Ladd described the presence of God’s kingdom as follows: “Instead of making changes in the external and political order of things, it is making changes in the spiritual order, and in the lives of men and women.”[7] Furthermore, the specific focus on the kingdom of God uplifted the disciples’ minds to the future hope of inheriting the earth (Matthew 5:5) and the anticipated joy of seeing God (Matthew 5:8). The listed qualities of discipleship entrenched in a relational connection to Jesus (Matthew 5:10,11) stood in direct conflict with the distorted values and practices espoused by human traditions and religiosity and with the distorted view of God outlined in Matthew chapters 5–7.

In this context, Christ’s reference to the poor in spirit denoted a life empty of self; meekness, the attitude of complete trust in God’s providence; and the pure in heart, the quality of spiritual authenticity. The enumerated characteristics of discipleship collided with the superficial nature of religious practices, devoid of a sensitive response to human needs. No wonder Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people insult you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me” (Matthew 5:11). Nevertheless, Christ’s Beatitudes highlight another aspect of spiritual discipleship.

The Beatitudes and the Transformational Nature of Discipleship

 A careful reading of the Beatitudes demonstrates that the character of the four other Beatitudes seems somewhat different: (a) Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted (Matthew 5:4); (b) Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled (Matthew 5:6); (c) Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy (Matthew 5:7); and (d) Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God (Matthew 5:9).

The last part of each Beatitude, expressed in a passive voice, suggests that those who mourn, thirst, and hunger due to spiritual emptiness, become the recipients of the blessings proceeding from the object of their adoration, God. Consequently, the qualities mentioned earlier—poverty in spirit, meekness, and purity of heart—defined as self-emptying and openness to be filled with the sensitivity of spiritual authenticity, are shaped by the overflowing abundance of God’s grace and love (Romans 5:1–5).

The spirit of meekness enables disciples to comprehend and have a share in the full measure of God’s protective care (Matthew 6:25–26). The transformational dynamism of God’s love endows them with the spirit of mercy and a secure identity as God’s adopted sons and daughters (Matthew 5:7,9). The described transformational process prepares Christ’s followers to step into the world of human brokenness as peacemakers and healers transformed by God’s grace (2 Corinthians 5:16–21).

Referring to the spiritually transformed nature of discipleship, Johannes Verkuyl asserted, “To become a disciple of Jesus involves sharing with him his death and joining him on the march to the final disclosure of his messianic reign.”[8] In Christ’s teaching from the mountain, discipleship is not presented as a production line or methodology designed primarily to initiate an exponential growth of God’s kingdom. Instead, His teachings unfold the view of what matters to God—an all-inclusive and sensitive response to human needs role-modelled by Jesus. Note the overwhelming attraction generated by Jesus’ ministry—Jesus, the champion of authentic spirituality. “Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him” (Matthew 4:25).

The Inspirational Focus of Spiritual Discipleship

In 1894, Ellen White wrote in Sign of the Times an interesting reflection on “the progress to be made in the spiritual journey and many lessons to be learned from Christ, the Great Teacher.” Her description is fascinating and challenging. “Could our spiritual vision be opened, we should see that which would never be effaced from memory as long as last should last.”[9]

What follows challenged my view of life and ministry. It challenged me to ask: “Am I spiritually blind that I do not see what matters to God?” Her words touched on the very essence of spiritual discipleship. “We should see souls bowed under oppression, loaded with grief, and pressed down as a cart beneath the sheaves, and ready to die in discouragement. We should see angels flying swiftly to aid the tempted ones who stand as on the brink of a precipice.” More so, she delineates the challenging view of God’s presence in action. “These souls are unable to help themselves and avoid the ruins that threaten them, but the angels of God are forcing the evil angels, and guiding the souls from the dangerous places, to plant their feet on a sure foundation.”

Is it conceivable that the frantic rush of producing discipling resources to devise ways of achieving success induces spiritual myopia that hinders us from seeing what God cares about?

Conclusive Reflection

 Perhaps it is time to climb the mountain to catch a gestalt of human suffering, injustice, abuse, and enslavement—the real world. Perhaps it is time for the church to reflect on itself to recapture the passion of spiritually authentic discipleship that touches the brokenness of human life with the inspiring presence of God (Matthew 6: 25–34), and Jesus, the champion of spiritual authenticity and healing.

John Skrzypaszek, DMin, a retired director of the Ellen White/Seventh-day Adventist Research Centre, is an adjunct senior lecturer at Avondale University College, Coranboong, NSW, Australia. Polish by birth, John takes a keen interest in heritage, spirituality, and identity studies. He is married to Brenda and has two sons Raphael and Luke. Email him at: [email protected]

 [1] Richard N. Wolman, Thinking with Your Soul: Spiritual Intelligence and Why it Matters (New York: NYL Harmony Books, 2001), 21.
[2] Juliette Lee, “Why I am More Spiritual than Religious,” Spectrum (May 15, 2017).
[3] Ibid.
[4] David Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shift in Theology of Mission (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1995), 66.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Millard Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker House), 1226.
[7] George Eldon Ladd, “The Gospel of the Kingdom.” In Perspectives in the World Christian Movement, edited by Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, A-69. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 1922.
[8] Johannes Verkuyl, “The Biblical Foundation for the Worldwide Mission Mandate.” In Perspectives in the World Christian Movement, edited by Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, A-62. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 1922.
[9] Ellen White, “To Abide in Christ the Will Must Be Surrendered,” Signs of the Times 20, no. 51 (October 29, 1894): 3.

01 Jun

REFRAMING THE FOCUS

The Seventh-day Adventist Church prides itself as the custodian of a specific message found in Revelation 14:6-13. The global scope of the proclamation embedded in the Three Angels’ Messages aims to prepare the world for Christ’s Second Coming. The introductory phrase, ‘Then I saw another angel flying in mid-air,’ expresses motivational haste for a dynamic activity encapsulated in the movement’s evangelistic thrust. The Church’s life and exponential growth are entrenched in the message’s spiritual DNA, drawing attention to the proclamation of the eternal gospel, and calling on people of all nations to worship God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth (Revelation 14:6:7).

While the character of the message’s evangelistic proclamation has been adjusted to a more profound and relevant response to human needs in the changing world, the eternal gospel’s spiritually relational quality eludes its life-transforming influence. The traditional, cognitively grounded, and program-oriented sharing of religious information devoid of the spiritual heart-to-heart dissemination of God’s love contributes to the formation of heartless religiosity.

Such an environment opens the floodgates to dogmatism, theological arguments, authoritarian control, a focus on oiling the organizational machinery’s status quo, and congregational attrition. Bosch argues, “If the Church is to impart to the world a message of hope and love–of faith, justice, and peace–something of this should become visible, audible, and tangible in the Church itself.”[1] The eternal gospel’s message has an all-inclusive application – not only to the world at large, but also to the Church. It calls on the Church to depart from the exclusive, judgmental mentality of triumphalism and step into the world of human brokenness, as Jesus did, to proclaim the message of hope and healing, justice, and mercy, not only in words, but also in the service of authentic witness.

The lack of contextualized adaptation of the eternal gospel to life in a progressively changing world confronts the Church with a dilemma. De Waal argues, “We are now living in one of the fastest periods of change in history, and the local Adventist church is in danger of becoming irrelevant, even outdated. The local church is at the crossroads and needs to biblically reinvent itself to stay relevant.”[2] He expands his argument by stressing the change’s impact globally: “While the Church is growing rapidly in the Global South, it is stagnant or experiencing malaise in most parts of the Global North. Many churches are in maintenance mode. Even though transfer and biological growth are steady, kingdom growth is minimal or by only addition. In its mission work, our Church often seems to be servicing institutions more than engaging in frontline work.”[3]

It’s painful and heartbreaking to pose honest, reflectively evaluating questions out in the open because it places individuals at risk of open criticism, silent exclusion, and even loss of employment. However, the contemporary emergence of authoritarian control and the dangerous pangs of fundamentalism in the ranks of the Adventist community, a community defined by Johnsson as “people of dream,”[4] encourages many thinkers to ask genuine questions concerning the state of the Church. De Waal extends the question to the spirit of evangelism: “Will the local Adventist church continue in its same structural mode, resourcing a paradigm of audience-centered and program-oriented ministry?”[5] In the depths of such heartfelt reflections, it’s necessary to refocus on the meaning of Jesus’ way, heart-to-heart proclamation, and sharing the good news of God’s kingdom of grace. In his challenging book Exiles: Living Missionally in the Post-Christian Culture, Michael Frost muses, “All Christian missional and [I add organizational and evangelistic] activities must emerge from our relationship with Jesus…. It is the Spirit of Christ within each of us that gives rise to a missional lifestyle.”[6] How did Jesus announce and proclaim the presence of God’s kingdom of grace?

Adjusting the Lenses

Space does not permit a detailed analysis of Christ’s Messianic entry into the domain of human life, but a brief, thoughtful reflection highlights the waves of inspirational motivation that enrich the meaning of the ‘eternal gospel’ and its application to God’s last invitation, calling people to step into the safe haven of God’s kingdom of grace. Frost defines such moments as “God’s songs.” Such songs dispel notions of fear, judgment, and condemnation, for they “give birth to a new world and a new way of being his followers.”[7] This succinct rumination suggests that God’s songs enhance the vision of healing, inspiration for life, and an unconditional acceptance.

Jesus announced the pathway of His redemptive ministry as “the good news for the poor. It aimed to proclaim freedom for prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, and release of oppression” (Luke 4:18,19). His proclamation’s evangelistic thrust was short and sweet: “Today, the Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (4:21). John’s gospel summarized its theological significance in another profound statement: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

Christ’s proclamation of the good news was not a top-down imposition of information shared from a distance. Moffett argues that in the kingdom’s context, the evangelistic proclamation was never so narrow that it became isolated from the immediate pressing needs of the imprisoned, the blind, and the oppressed.[8] It may be added that the presence of God’s kingdom of grace extended its healing influence beyond the realm of physical needs, grounding its healing power in the spiritual domain of human experience. Christ’s physical healings provided just a microscopic taste of the future glory, in which death and suffering would reign no more (Revelation 21:1-4). However, His journey to the cross displayed His attitude toward marginalized, spiritually wounded, and homeless people.

The selected narratives in the first three chapters of John’s gospel are significantly intentional. He is the only gospel writer who refers to Christ’s miracle at the wedding in Cana (2:1-11). While the other gospel writers described Christ’s cleansing of the temple during the Passover Feast just before His death, John includes the story at the beginning of Christ’s Messianic mission (2:12-23). The story of Nicodemus appears only in the gospel of John. The listed narratives outline the scope of Christ’s relational attitude that guided the human heart to the place of spiritual healing–the cross.

First, life in Jesus’ presence generated a spontaneous willingness to witness (1:35- 51). Jesus knew that His disciples did not understand His Mission’s real purpose.[9] Nevertheless, He was not hesitant to change Peter’s name, for he knew his potential and uniqueness. Jesus was not afraid to provide encouragement, motivation, and unconditional acceptance, rather than criticism. He knew and understood Nathaniel’s struggles with doubts, yet he encouraged him with a greater vision (1:51). The entire story opens our minds to the welcoming environment of acceptance that ignites human value.

Second, the wedding miracle at Cana reminded the disciples to focus on the unfolding presence of God’s grace, for the best was yet to come (2:10). As Leon Morris suggests, “He [Jesus] changed the waters of Christ-lessness into the wine of the richness and the fullness of eternal life.”[10] Christ’s miracle of changing water into wine unfolded the pathway of creative inspiration for life, reminding the disciples that the best comes last. Even though the disciples did not understand the spiritual significance of the miracle, they “put their faith in him” (2:11).

Finally, Jesus’ dialogue with Nicodemus confronts all with the challenge of decisions – the challenge to be born from above to receive the healing and life-transforming power of God’s grace (3:10-17).

This brief reflection suggests that the outlined character of unconditional acceptance, inspiration for life, and the life-transforming and healing power of the cross represents the spiritual depth of the “eternal gospel” to be shared with the people of all the nations (Revelation 14:6-7). Furthermore, the attitude role-modeled by Christ’s witness safeguards God’s message from any form of fiery and critical condemnation of the world (John 3:16-17). Instead, it challenges the community of faith to mold the footsteps of God’s mercy on the pathway of human life, focusing on the victorious liberation accomplished by Jesus, the Lamb of God (John 1:35; 3:16; Revelation 5:6-13). So reciting Frost, “Why can’t our corporate singing summon up a world where the poor are fed, and the marginalized are welcomed to the table of the Lord? Why can’t we sing about the world that Jesus dreamed of on the side of the mountain? Why does our singing so often seem so trivial?”[11]

Jesus is not just another story among many stories; HE IS THE STORY–He is the home of hope, peace, and inspiration in the messed-up world.

John Skrzypaszek, DMin, a retired director of the Ellen White/Seventh-day Adventist Research Centre, is an adjunct senior lecturer at Avondale University College, Coranboong, NSW, Australia. Polish by birth, John takes a keen interest in heritage, spirituality, and identity studies. He is married to Brenda and has two sons Raphael and Luke. Email him at: [email protected]

 

[1] David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1995), 414.

[2] Kayle de Waal, “A question of mission,” Adventist Record. (August 1, 2017), 1

[3] Ibid.

[4] William Johnsson, The Fragmenting of Adventism (Boise, ID: Pacific Press, 1995), 105.

[5] De Waal, 1.

[6] Michael Frost, Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2006), 29.

[7] Frost, 23.

[8] Samuel Moffett, “Evangelism: The Leading Partner” in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, Eds. Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 1992), D-208.

[9] Luke 18: 31-34; Mark 9:32; John 12:16; Luke 22:18-21.

[10] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1971), 176.

[11] Frost, 23

 

28 Mar

UNITY AND DIVERSITY IN THE SPACE OF GOD’S GRACE

By John Skrzypaszek …

Introduction

Gorden R. Doss defines the Church as a community where “God’s Kingdom is revealed as a foretaste of its full revelation at the Second Coming.” 1 In the space of God’s Kingdom of Grace, such a community moves beyond the terms of fixed definitions, for it represents a vibrant, diversified, pulsating organism “when its members exhibit God through gifts and graces of the Spirit.” 2 However, he warns that within the scope of life’s journey, the Church can lose the vision of its purpose, requiring that it be converted and reconverted to regain the essence of its significance. The narrative of the Seventh-day Adventist movement reflects the meandering nature of its calling and the prophetic voice’s guiding role.

Challenge

In the late 1800s and early 1900s—a time of transitional adjustments to life in a changing world—interpersonal conflicts, theological quarrels, and organizational and administrative tensions clouded the movement’s focus on its calling’s spiritual nature. This necessitates an injection of new motivation for life mirroring the principles of God’s Kingdom of Grace, nurturing creativity, broad-mindedness, tolerance, and a unified diversity of thought. In Ellen G. White’s understanding, the underlying problem rested in the movement’s separation from the primary source of spiritual life—Jesus: “We need to fix the eye of faith upon the cross and believe that Jesus is our strength, our salvation.” 3

Within the prevailing milieu of theological frictions and authoritarian leadership, she urged the Church to focus on God’s vision: “God called for unity in diversity among his people.” 4 She also argued, “In the branches of the vine, there is unity in diversity. There is a variety in a tree; scarcely two leaves are just alike. And this variety adds to the perfection of the tree as a whole.” The used metaphor underscored the missing element of the movement’s pursuits: “In all the representation of truth by different minds, there is to be unity in diversity.” 5 One may ask: Why were Ellen G. White’s appeals so relevant to the Church’s progressive growth?

First, the Church had lost its original spiritual vibrancy and cohesiveness that flourished on the foundations of love and expectations of Christ’s return. Recalling the intense depth of the experience, she mused, “None who experienced this hope and trust can ever forget those precious hours of waiting.” 6 The genuine faith-oriented conviction of Christ’s return elicited a passionate, united commitment in sharing the news. 7

Second, in the aftermath of the failed expectations, the shattered dream forced the surviving Adventists to search for self-understanding concerning past experiences. It also challenged them to define themselves regarding the future.8 The consequential nexus encompassing the past and future laid the foundations for a collaborative, interactive, open-minded field of creativity immersed in two essential elements: conviction and a search for meaning. More significantly, it generated an all-inclusive ambiance for diversified views, openness to a progressive understanding of God’s revelation, and a relevant response to the nation’s social problems.9

However, preoccupation with self-understanding, engrossed in the correctness of doctrinal expressions, led to what, in contemporary terms, may be referred to as cultural tribalism, which Onongha defines as “unswerving loyalty to one’s group—usually to the detriment of other persons or groups.” 10 He describes tribalism’s essence in terms of superiority, pride, suspicion, and destructive criticism. One may add authoritarian leadership and judgmental attitudes—characteristics contrary to the principles of God’s kingdom of Grace. Such prevailing attitudes enhanced cultural distancing and contributed to a deeply fractious and unsettling spiritual landscape within the community of believers.

No wonder that in 1888, Ellen G.White issued a stern warning: “The correct interpretation of the Scriptures is not all that God requires. He enjoins upon us that we should not only know the truth…We are to bring into our practice, in our association with our fellowmen, the spirit of Him who gave us the truth.” 11 In response to the prevailing crisis, Ellen G. White’s voice challenged the Church to recapture the spiritually multi-focal vision of God’s Kingdom of Grace flowing from the hub of a creative collaboration between conviction and an unceasing search for meaning.

Reorientation

In the 1900s, her distinctive call for spiritual reorientation expanded in three significant areas. She advocated a change in the philosophy of mission, a visionary status of identity, and a creatively progressive application of the principles of God’s Kingdom of Grace in the changing world.

In its early phase, the movement’s missional consciousness rested on the proclamation of distinctive doctrines.

In the 1900s, Ellen G. White challenged the Church to engage in the mission in a fully inclusive way, “not merely by preaching, but by the deeds of loving ministry.” 12 She extended the appeal to pastors, medical doctors, nurses, teachers, students, and people from every profession and walk of life. Recognizing the value of human life, gifted with a God-empowered variety of talents, she encouraged the Church to contextualize and adapt the life-inspiring distinctiveness of a Christ-centered message to people’s needs—not from a distant proclamation, but the proximity of everyday life. 13 In this respect, her messages focused on the inspirational vision of service to God through every facet of life.

This all-inclusive call demanded a new reorientation and visionary acumen of identity—not in the realm of doctrinal beliefs, but one that stemmed from a spiritual relationship with Jesus. Undoubtedly, a personal, faith-oriented walk with Jesus weaves a softening influence from God’s love into the fabric of one’s unique individuality. She argued, “God has given each of us an identity of our own, which cannot be merged in that of another.” 14 It is evident that Ellen G. White linked identity with the “religion of Christ,” meaning “the reflection of the spirit of Christ’s life.” 15 In other words, a relational, faith-oriented commitment to Jesus restores one’s uniqueness and value for a creative engagement with the world.

Practical Application

Conversely, a contemporary writer, Frost, suggests that preoccupation with self, whether individual or institutional, immobilizes the freedom to “step outside oneself to rethink, re-imagine, and re-describe larger reality.” 16

As shown in the diagram to the right, Ellen G. White’s visionary reorientation placed the hub of the movement’s identity in the life-changing fulcrum of God’s Kingdom of Grace. In this space, trust and commitment to God, as revealed in the Bible, enhance openness to the process of modification and renewal expressed in faith relevant to its time and place. This process commences with an individual response to one’s journey with Jesus, then spreads its wings of attraction to homes, churches, institutions— finally overflowing with the world’s needs.

In her view, identity moves beyond knowledge-oriented, argumentative convictions to what she defines as a “practical religion,” 17 i.e., one that enhances unity, but not conformity: “Many people may be brought together in a unity of religious faith whose opinions, habits, and tastes in temporal matters are not in harmony, but if they have a love of Christ glowing in their hearts, and are looking forward to the same heaven as their eternal home, they may have the sweetest and most intelligent communion together and a unity the most wonderful.” 18 Moreover, it sanctions creative interpretation of God’s revelation in an atmosphere of mutual respect and kindness.

Ellen G.White also envisioned a similar purpose for institutional identity. Institutions and organizations were to maintain individuality, while simultaneously living in harmonious relational unity with other entities: “Union with one another comes through union with Christ. In Him, each institution is united to every other while at the same time, its identity is not merged in that of another.” 19 Free of self-oriented love, they were to engage in the harmonious task of expanding God’s mission in the world. In Ellen G. White’s mind, the harmonized unity between individual identity and the bond of togetherness embraces more than an exercise in semantics and a build-up of territorial comfort zones: “The world needs to see worked out before it the miracle that binds the hearts of God’s people together in Christian love.” 20

The united effort to live out God’s dream provides the freedom to search for new meanings, renewals, modifications, and creative expressions of faith without fear, for as Ellen G. White expressed, “Every human being, created in the image of God, is endowed with a power akin to that of the Creator—individuality, power to think and to do.” 21 In this respect, her visionary motivation inspired the Church to re-imagine a robust future confidently as “thinkers and not mere reflectors of other men’s thoughts.” She spoke against the movement’s progress in terms of status quo or, as suggested by Frost, a “retreat into some fundamentalist us-vs.-them model.” 22

As early as 1892, her words challenged the church leaders: “There is no excuse for anyone in taking the position that there is no more truth to be revealed and that all our expositions of the Scripture are without an error.

The fact that certain doctrines have been held as truth for many years by our people is not proof that our ideas are infallible” 23 In her mind, unity in diversity finds its locum in the creative vibrancy of God’s space, in which individual minds are united in the bond of togetherness and mutual respect “under the Great Head as branches are united to the vine.” 24 Consequently, the healing power of God’s grace empowers thought leaders and trendsetters to dream of God’s dreams and provide an innovative leadership pathway.

It may be concluded that the nature of Ellen G. White’s spiritual reorientation challenged the Church to join God’s presence in human suffering to create a space of safety and attraction raised on the foundations of His incomprehensible love and grace—making room for unreserved convictions and an ongoing search for meaning.

— John Skrzypaszek, DMin, a retired director of the Ellen G. White/ Seventh-day Adventist Research Centre, is an adjunct senior lecturer at Avondale University College, Coranboong, NSW, Australia. Polish by birth, John takes a keen interest in heritage, spirituality, and identity studies. He is married to Brenda and has two sons, Raphael and Luke. Email him at: [email protected]

 

1 Gorden R. Doss, Introduction to Adventist Mission (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University, 2018), 82.
2 Ibid.
3 Ellen G. White, Review and Herald, August 15, 1882.
4 Ellen G. White, Ms105, 1900.
5 Ibid.
6 Ellen G. White, Testimony for the Church, Vol 1 (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1948), 51.
7 Ellen G. White, Life Sketches (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1915), 54.
8 Malcolm Bull and Keith Lockhart, Seeking a Sanctuary: Seventh-day Adventism and the American Dream (Bloomigton, IN: Indiana University Press, 2007), 39.
9 Douglas Morgan, “Society” in Ellen Harmon White, American Prophet, Edt, Terrie Dopp Aamodt, Terrie Dopp., Ronald L. Numbers (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2014), 224.
10 Kevin Onongha, “Toxic Tribalism” Adventist World https://www.adventistworld.org/toxic-tribalism/
11 Ellen G. White, Letter 20, 1888.
12 Ellen G. White, Ms7, 1908.
13 Ellen G. White, Ms87,1907.
14 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 3 (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1848), 539.
15 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 4 (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1848), 65.
16 Michael Frost, Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture (Peabody, MS: Hendrickson Publishers, 2007), 9.
17 E. G. White, Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 3 ((Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1848),197.
18 E.G. White, Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 4 ((Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1848), 65.
19 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 7 (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1848), 171.
20 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 9 (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1848), 188.
21 Ellen G. White, Education (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1903), 17.
22 Frost, Exiles, 10.
23 Ellen G. White, Review Herald, December 20, 1892.
24 Ellen G. White, Ms 158, 1898.

10 Jan

THE SPIRITUAL JOURNEY OF KNOWING

By John Skrzypaszek — In a stimulating article titled “Knowing God or Knowing the Idea of God,” Connie J. French, a former Seventh-day Adventist, raised a thought-provoking question related to the spiritual journey of knowing God. She argues, “God cannot be explained or identified by religious teaching. No matter how well-intended, religious teaching is (usually) the communication of ideas.” 1 Raised in the milieu of distinctive Adventist beliefs, which were presented to her as the truth, she began to search for a deeper understanding of God. In this context, she referred to the “well-intended, religious teachings” as a blockage of her ability to discern God’s presence in real-life experience. She mused, “What I was taught about God blocked my ears from hearing God telling me the truth that would make me free.” 2

Her story begs the question of whether, in a world of rapid changes, the current resurgence of a dogmatic defense of Adventism’s established doctrines and prophetic interpretations responds adequately to people’s concerns regarding the reality of God’s presence in day-to-day struggles.

About ten years ago, Michael Pearson identified the polarizing impact caused by the volte-face to the safe haven of traditional beliefs to re-establish the primary identity of3 Adventism. This named reversion to traditional beliefs, communicated through the lense of propositional terminologies, breeds a dogmatic and a distant view of God.

Eugene Peterson offers relevant advice. He warns against a static descriptive rationalization of God’s story as our story about God, our doctrines, our moral codes and our life of ministry. He maintains that such rationalization takes one “out of God’s presence and activity.” He calls instead for “continuous re-immersion in the story itself”—the gospel story—the story of God’s presence in the reality of human life.

Margaret Guenther describes life with all its challenges as a journey on which it is difficult for travelers to endure a lengthy voyage in comfort without hospitality. She writes, “However prudent their planning and abundant in their supplies, if the journey goes on long enough, they will need the care of a host, someone who offers a temporary home, as a place of rest and refreshment.” 4 The search for secure, life-refreshing space of hospitality, the search for knowing and understanding God in the space of such rest opens the human mind to discover God, not as a remote Being but as a Host who offers weary travelers, life-transforming hospitality in Jesus.

Even if expressed in the most sublime language, conjectural descriptions of God fail to convey the gravity of His communicative, redemptive and hope-inspiring self-revelation through Jesus (Hebrews 1:1–3). In Jesus, God touched the dirt of human life. This was not to define himself in terms of human logic but in revealing instead the full measure of His incomprehensible and unconditional love.

Jesus’ life corroborates God’s propinquity to and empathy for human struggles, fears, and unrest caused by ambiguous and unexpected circumstances. While the ensuing feelings and challenges generate a void space of uncertainty, doubt and insecurity, at the same time, the voice that once called “where are you?” to the fear-stricken hearts (Genesis 3:8–9) delineated a stirring definition of knowing: “Now this is life eternal that they may know you the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

Jesus made even clearer the pathway to knowing God. “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well” (John 14:6–7). Jesus is identified as the conduit to a more profound and meaningful understanding of God which interweaves the journey of knowing with an interactive, dynamic and faith-oriented intimacy with Jesus. Moreover, as Leon Morris asserts, “To know God means more than knowing the way to life.” To know God means much more than a technical elucidation of specific elements of faith. He maintains, “It is life.” In the light of Christ’s definition, to know “does not mean to know fully but to learn to know.” It means to know intimately and relationally. The journey of coming to know God involves an “ever-increasing knowledge, not something given in its completeness once and for all.” 5 Paul exclaims that our knowledge is just a poor reflection but one day we will see and know in full. (1 Corinthians 13:12).

The relational experience of knowing God is progressive, subject to the patient discernment of His voice as it speaks through Scripture and life experience. Speaking from the depth of her own search for knowing God, Ellen White wrote, “Everyone needs to have a personal experience in obtaining a knowledge of the will of God. We must individually hear Him speaking to the heart. When every other voice is hushed, and in quietness, we wait before Him, the silence of the soul makes more distinct the voice of God. He bids us, ‘Be still and know that I am God’ (Psalm 46:1).” 6 It is evident that the process of knowing requires attentive listening and full immersion in the metanarrative of God’s saving and redemptive acts. It also leads to the discernment of His guiding presence in the flow of life events.7 As expressed by Morris, “To know Him transforms a man and introduces him to a different quality of life.” 8 The effects of such relational intimacy are transformational and life-changing.

The Living God—the Creator, Communicator, Saviour and Healer—cannot be locked in a cage of dogmatic statements. Bertil Wiklander asserts, “The vision of the ultimacy of God must transcend any written expression of doctrinal position.” 9 As argued by Sterling, it is dangerous to reduce the process of knowing God to the level of an intellectual exercise: “By its very nature, the conceptualized format of theological expressions form a kind of intellectual cathedral, an open target for a kind of intellectual guerrilla warfare and a criteria based on rationality.” 10 In the space of the intellectual quest to know the truth, it is easy to set aside the vision of God’s truth as revealed in Jesus.11

Jesus engraved in the domain of human life a memorial of God’s presence, prompting us to remember that in the space of God’s love, “there is no fear” (1 John 4:18). This assurance offers courage to embrace the trustworthiness of God’s unfailing promises and a space to rediscover identity, purpose and hope, nested in the framework of God’s inspirational and visionary self-revelation of truth in Jesus.

The spiritual journey of knowing anchors the development of Christian identity in the hands of the Potter. At the level of relational and faith-oriented experience of knowing the formation of identity moves beyond the exercise of propositional definitions. Robert Mullholand explains this process as “being conformed into the image of Christ, a journey into becoming persons of compassion, persons who forgive, who care deeply for others and the world, persons who offer themselves to God to become agents of divine grace in the lives of others and their world—in brief, persons who love and serve as Jesus did.” 12 Christian identity matures in response to the outflow of God’s creative and redemptive expression of His love in Jesus. It is a vibrant, transformational process, a metamorphosis of values, feelings and emotions.

Theological assertions and formulated doctrines, significant as they are, do not constitute the quintessence of Christian identity. Erikson observes that man’s identity finds its locus in God—“the fact that God created Him.” 13 Such a stance encompasses much more than a well-defined construct of doctrinal beliefs, for it links with God’s life-transforming hub. Here, individuals rediscover personal worth, uniqueness and potential, which are the supporting and consequential spokes of Christian identity designed by God’s redemptive work through Jesus. “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called the children of God! And that is what we are. Dear Friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known but we know that when he appears, we shall be like him for we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:1,3). Anchored in a secure space of God’s hospitality in Jesus, Christian identity reflects the heartbeat of Christ’s attitude by amplifying the spirit of unity rather than conformity. It empowers believers to act and serve as Jesus served.

Ellen White described Christ’s attitude so adequately. “He [Jesus] made no difference between neighbors and strangers, friends and enemies. That which appealed to His heart was a soul thirsting for the water of life. He passed no human being as worthless but sought to apply the healing remedy to every soul.” 14 In the space of His encounter with people, who struggled with the common issues and challenges of everyday life, Jesus provided a temporary home as a spiritual place for rest and refreshment—a place of knowing God.

As for Connie French, her spiritual journey of knowing God matured in the wilderness of personal real-life experience—the place which helped her discover that the “truth of God is a relational truth.” 15 In Jesus, one finds the essence of the spiritual journey of knowing.

–John Skrzypaszek, DMin, has recently retired as the director of the Ellen White/Seventh-day Adventist Research Centre, and is an adjunct senior lecturer at Avondale University College, Coranboong, NSW, Australia. Polish by birth, John takes a keen interest in heritage, spirituality, and identity studies. He is married to Brenda and has two sons Raphael and Luke. Email him at: [email protected]

1 Janet French, Knowing God or Knowing the Idea of God https://atoday.org/ what-sort-of-truth-is-the-truth-of-knowing-god/

2 Ibid.

3 Michael Pearson, Millennial Dreams and Moral Dilemmas: Seventh-day Adventism and Contemporary Ethics (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008).

4 Margaret Guenter, Holy Listening: The Art of Spiritual Direction (Boston: Cowley Publications, 1992), 9.

5 Leo Morris, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1971), 719.

6 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1940), 363.

7 Petersen, Subversive Spirituality, 5.

8 Morris, The Gospel According to John 719–720.

9 Bertil Wiklander, “The Truth as it is in Jesus” https://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/1996/02/the-truth-as-it-is-in-jesus

10 David Sterling, “Not a Wisdom of This Age,” in Theology and the Future, eds. Trevor Cairney and David Starling (London, UK: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014), 83.

11 Wiklander.

12 M. Robert Mulholland, Invitation to a Journey (Downers, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 25.

13 Millard Erickson, Christian Theology(GrandRapids:BakerBook,1985),488.

14 Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1905), 93.

15 French.

29 Mar

SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTISM, PILGRIMAGE, AND CHANGE

By John Skrzypaszek … The global chain of political, social, environmental, and technological changes encompasses contemporary life with an encumbrance of an unexpected set of anxieties that cast a confusing shadow over the quality and purpose of life and its meaning. In response to the plethora of mounting pressures imposed on life’s journey, Adam Fenner writes, in Ministry magazine, that the Seventh-day Adventist Church faces a serious task to maintain the relevance of its doctrinal expressions in its mission to the world. Errol Webster identifies the confronting reality by asking, “If knowing doctrines does not sustain members during personal crises or fortify them against secularism, is there something missing from our teaching?” He identifies two essential elements in the existing quandary: members’ struggles in spiritual life and the lack of Christ-centered teaching of doctrines.

In his thought-provoking book, The Safest Place on Earth, Larry Crabb highlights the existing dilemma’s core, arguing, “For too long, we’ve been encouraged by a solution-focused, make-it-work culture to flee to human mountains when life gets tough. . . . We’ve been counseled, medicated, religiously entertained and inspired, exhorted, distracted and formula directed long enough.” In his view, the reactive solution-seeking response to the human heart’s needs leads to a lost focus on spiritual living. Is it possible to entertain the notion that a clear, logically presented exposition of propositional truth flowered with the prophetic interpretation of events descends into the domain of solution-focused Christian activity? What needs to change to make it known that our conversations do not flow from an isolated dais of doctrinal superiority, but rather come from Christ?

The Heart of the Pilgrimage

Based on sound theological foundations, the Seventh-day Adventist identity story began with a journey, a spiritual pilgrimage with a new and revived focus on Jesus. In the prevailing climate of the Great Disappointment, a time of spiritual and doctrinal confusion, God raised a prophetic voice to provide comfort, encouragement and aide-mémoire of His return. Essentially, Ellen White’s prophetic voice inspired the movement to “fix their eyes on Jesus.”

Her influence emerged at a critical phase during the journey. David Sterling refers to such moments in history in terms of unexpected surprise, “when the blackness of the present is understood to be so thick that God’s purposes can neither be perceived nor fulfilled without a new direct intervention in both revelation and salvation.” It energized the early Sabbatarian Adventists with open-minded plasticity, prodding them to study the Bible dynamically and apply the unfolding beliefs to life’s journey. By 1860, the process had raised the movement’s foundational theological framework, and the name Seventh-day Adventist had been adopted.

The discovered beliefs referred to as the “present truth” were not locked into a set of propositional assertions detached from the spiritual dimension of lived experience. Consequently, the selected name encompassed the spiritual component of faith expressed in doctrinal position, i.e., the faith-oriented depth of spiritual experiences weaved a renewed measure of relationally oriented trust in God’s presence into Adventists’ beliefs. According to Marjorie Thompson, “the spiritual life is grounded in a relationship. It has to do with God’s way of relating to us, and our way of responding to God.” Furthermore, it embodies “a deep hunger for direct experience with God, rather than second-hand faith,” a yearning for personal faith to “catch fire.”

John McClean discusses the close-knit relationship between spirituality, theology and its application to life’s experience. He explains theology as part of the lived experience and asserts that it engages with drama. Moreover, the lived experience calls on “theology to step into the drama” to shape a dynamic, inspirational motivation towards a progressive understanding of God’s revelation through Jesus (John 17: 3). Nevertheless, he forewarns, “A Christian theology that is true to its apocalyptic roots will resist the temptation to offer a neat, static, providential system that explains and justifies the world.” Instead, it calls on followers to “take into a serious account the hiddenness of God’s hand in the world that we see.”

The hiddenness of God or, as these brief reflections suggest, the mystery of God breeds a new awakening and drive to rediscover a clear understanding of the hope imbedded in God’s solutions—the Jesus story. In the named space, all doctrinal expressions flow from the depth of spiritual frustrations, struggles, doubts and often God’s silence—the pathway of human struggles to know and understand God—a pathway that also unfolds the meaning and purpose of life designed by God.

In the spiritual journey’s milieu, the work and function of the prophetic voice and the prophetic movement move beyond the boundaries of informative propositional expression of doctrines. Walter Brueggemann defines it as the responsibility to “nurture, nourish and to evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perceptions of the dominant culture around us.” He further maintains that the alternative consciousness function serves to energize persons and communities with a visionary, inspirational “anticipation that God has promised and will surely give.” It refrains from telling people what to believe in, how to believe and what to do. Rather, the depth of such a prophetic worldview invites all to step into the realm of God’s space—a space of alternative consciousness, the kingdom of God’s grace, for a transformational experience with Jesus.

The Call for Change

The movement’s evolving journey encountered the pressures exerted by the “consciousness” of the changing world. The organizational structure’s escalating expansion, theological debates and arguments, confining the distinctiveness of Seventh-day Adventist beliefs and fundamentalism’s augmenting influence, effaced the movement’s focus on the spiritual nature of its calling.

Defining the fixed application of doctrinal beliefs, Børge Schantz observes that between 1874 and 1889, the Seventh-day Adventists approved other missionary societies to lead people to Christ. However, the Adventists were “committed to bring them to the last warning” [the distinctively Adventist doctrines]. Consequently, the emerged struggles associated with understanding the depth of spiritual experience through the lens of righteousness by faith (1882-1888) prompted Ellen White to issue a warning: “The correct interpretation of the Scripture is not all that God requires. . . . We are to bring into our practice, in our association with our fellowmen, the spirit of Him who gave us the truth.”

Space does not permit a detailed analysis of the lost focus on spiritual authenticity, but during the entire period, Ellen White’s voice immersed doctrinal beliefs into the inspirational Jesus’ story: “Every true doctrine makes Christ the center; every precept receives force from his Word.” She revived an undivided commitment to the authority of God’s Word, not for the sake of argumentative disputes, but for an in-depth experience with Jesus. She called for a change built on an alternative consciousness to the surrounding consciousness of her time—a consciousness of implicit trust and confidence in God’s presence: “Everyone needs to have a personal experience in obtaining a knowledge of the will of God. We must in dividually hear Him speaking to the heart.”

In the space of the spiritual attachment to Jesus, she called for renewal of the dynamic open-minded creativity towards a progressive understanding of the Bible and openness to a deeper application of God’s revelation in Jesus to life’s journey. She warned: “There is no excuse for anyone in taking the position that there is no more truth to be revealed, and that all our expositions of Scripture are without an error.” Her call for change encompassed a call for a renewed focus on Jesus imbedded in the gospel’s story. It summoned the movement to present faith’s sincerity and authenticity by transcribing doctrinal beliefs into an authentic theology in practice.

A Contemporary Call for Change

As outlined in the introductory paragraph, the contemporary Seventh-day Adventist movement faces an ongoing challenge to retain a meaningful voice amid the changing world’s complexities. The inherited shift from the seekers of truth to established beliefs’ defenders initiated a disengaging insensitivity to the value of a transformational journey with God.

The call for relevance challenges the movement to recapture the seeker’s pioneering spirit—comprising passion, zeal and commitment to innovative creativity to explore new territories in the journey of faith. It further calls on the movement to step into the domain of human suffering and remain in a state of continual interaction with the changing nature of the social and cultural environment, sharing contemporary beliefs immersed in a Christ-focused theological practice.

–John Skrzypaszek, DMin, has recently retired as the director of the Ellen White/Seventh-day Adventist Research Centre, and is a lecturer at Avondale University College, Cooranbong, NSW, Australia. Polish by birth, John takes a keen interest in heritage, spirituality, and identity studies. He is married to Brenda and has two sons, Raphael and Luke. Email him at: [email protected]

 

Suggested Reading

The Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggemann.

Theology and the Future: Evangelical Assertions and Explorations by Trevor Cairney and David Starling (Eds.).

The Safest Place on Earth Where People Connect and Are Forever Changed by Larry Crabb.

Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life by Marjorie J. Thompson.

Desire of Ages by Ellen White.

Education by Ellen White.

Testimonies for the Church Volume 1 by Ellen White.

25 Jan

OPINION: Beyond Conspiracies and Speculative Assumptions

By John Skrzypaszek — What a year of unexpected challenges! COVID-19 pressured us to change the way we live and work. The global impact, apocalyptic scenes of gloom and doom, loss of lives, unrest in the economy and politics built up our fears.

Sadly, many have jumped on the conspiracy theory bandwagon, creating a range of speculative assumptions about the future.

In the past three months, the questions I received about last-day events caused me to wonder whether we truly believe God is in control of our future or just in the fancy of speculative assumptions. Social media is filled with topics that seem intended to scare people to heaven. Quotes from Ellen White’s writings are used out of context to support personal conjectures.

These questions challenged me to examine the essence or purpose of the prophetic voice, both from a biblical perspective and the inspired and inspirational voice in Ellen White’s writings.

Biblical Perspective

The Bible describes a specific purpose for the prophetic voice.

First, the prophetic voice provides a pathway of secure, inspirational focus that nurtures our spiritual life. It imparts comfort, encouragement, and hope secured in the reliability of the prophetic message (1 Cor. 14:32 Pet. 1:19).

Second, the essence, or the heart, of the prophetic voice unfolds the panoramic view of God’s saving acts through Jesus. It takes the human mind away from the fear of events driven by the fancy of varied interpretations. Instead, it calls attention to the climactic event — the Messianic event (1 Pet. 1:10-12).

Third, it offers an environment for transformational change, which motivates believers to recapture the depth of God’s incomprehensible love and care in places where our lives get difficult and we can’t see God working (1 Pet. 1:18-21Isa. 40:9-11).

No wonder Peter’s conviction about the steadfastness of the prophetic voice moves beyond the framework of speculative ideas. “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were the eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Pet. 1:16, NIV). Peter’s account affirms the trustworthiness of God’s unfailing promises.

Commenting on the purpose of God’s communicative intent in Hebrews 1:1-3, theologian F. F. Bruce asserts, “Had God remained silent, enshrouded in thick darkness, the plight of mankind would have been desperate indeed; but now He has spoken His revealing, redeeming and life-giving word, and in His light we see light.”1 He expands his thought even deeper, stating that “divine revelation is thus seen to be progressive — but the progression is not from less true to more true, from less worthy to more worthy, or from less mature to the more mature…. The progression is one from promise to fulfillment.”

God’s involvement in human life encompasses the overarching development of the Messianic promise given to Adam and Eve in the context of fear and confusion (Gen. 3:15). Touching the dirt of human life, God provided comfort and encouragement flowing from His assuring presence and the hope embedded in the Messianic promise. The ongoing purpose of the prophetic voices reminded people about the trustworthiness of God’s promise, and it challenged them to accommodate a visionary view of the Messianic hope (Isa. 42:5-7). A time came when, through Jesus, God touched the dirt of human life again to impart comfort, encouragement, and hope. No wonder that in the context of His promised return (John 14:1-3), Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27, NIV).

It’s so easy to lose focus on the central element of the Christian faith, namely, the full wealth of spiritual depth embedded in Jesus, the promised Messiah (2 Pet. 1:34).

The Jesus narrative is the fulcrum of Christian comfort, encouragement, and hope. Here one finds the essence of the prophetic voice, which unfolds the panoramic view of God’s saving acts. The Messianic story takes the human mind away from the fear of events, driven by the fancy of varied interpretations. Instead, it challenges us to recapture the depth of God’s incomprehensible care and love, which gently nurtures faith in the places where life becomes difficult. Such a voice continues to remind the church about the trustworthiness of Christ’s promised return (Heb. 10:35–37) entrenched in the reliable authority of the Bible (2 Tim. 3:162 Pet. 1:1617).

Ellen White’s Perspective

Why was it expedient for God to raise a prophetic voice in the 19th century? How relevant is that voice to the ongoing journey of faith?

Ellen White clearly understood the essence of her prophetic voice. In 1901 she wrote, “The Lord desires you to study your Bibles. He has not given any additional light to take the place of His Word.”2 Further, she understood her relation to the authority of the Bible. “The Spirit was not given — nor can it be bestowed — to supersede the Bible, for the Scriptures explicitly state that the Word of God is the standard by which all teaching and experience must be tested.”3

Her voice encouraged the movement to immerse life experience in the power of God’s Word. “I have felt to urge upon all the necessity of searching the Scripture for themselves that they may know the truth, and may discern more clearly the compassion and love of God…. There is one central truth to be kept before the mind in searching of the Scriptures: Christ and Him crucified.”4

Her voice shaped a motivational and inspirational framework of God’s designed purpose for Christian living. It called upon the meandering movement to live a spiritually relational life, anchored in the teachings of Jesus, and to demonstrate to the world the transformational impact of God’s grace.

Finally, her emphasis on God’s love and the trustworthiness of His promises aimed to inspire a spiritually missional life.

In the context of her progressive understanding of God’s unconditional love for the world expressed through Jesus, Ellen White expanded the view of mission. It moved beyond the proclamation of specific distinctive doctrines. From about 1900, Ellen White called for an all-inclusive engagement in the mission “not merely by preaching but the deeds of loving ministry.”5 The challenge to an inclusive engagement was a calling to pastors, medical doctors, nurses, teachers, students, and people from every profession and walk of life to share the knowledge of Jesus.6

Ellen White’s prophetic voice focuses on Jesus and provides a view of the practical application of faith. “The work Christ came to do in our world was not to create barriers and constantly thrust upon the people the fact that they were wrong. Though He was a Jew, He mingled freely with the Samaritans, setting at naught the Pharisaic customs of His nation. In the face of their prejudices, He accepted the hospitality of these despised people. He slept with them under their roofs, ate with them at their tables — partaking of the food prepared and served by their hands — taught in their streets, and treated them with the utmost kindness and courtesy.”7

Her voice challenges the church to sway away from a speculative assumption about the future, arising from a reactionary response to current events. Instead, it calls the movement to recapture the power of God’s transforming grace, to maintain an implicit trust in His unfailing promises, and to wait in full confidence for His return. “So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For, ‘In just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay’” (Heb. 10:35-37, NIV). Further, her voice highlights that “in time[s] of confusion and trouble before us, a time of trouble as has not been since there was a nation, the uplifted Savior will be presented to the people in all lands, that all who look to Him in faith may live.”8

— –John Skrzypaszek, DMin, has written for Mountain Views and has recently retired as the director of the Ellen White/Seventh-day Adventist Research Center, and is a lecturer at Avondale University College (2005-2020), Cooranbong, NSW, Australia. Polish by birth, John takes a keen interest in heritage, spirituality and identity studies. He is married to Brenda and has two sons, Raphael and Luke. Email him at: [email protected]

The original version of this commentary was Adventist Record republished by Adventist Review.

1. F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2012), 1, 2.
2. Ellen G. White, Letter 130, 1901, p. 1.
3. Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy(Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1911), vii.
4. Ellen G. White, “Circulation of the Great Controversy,” Ms. 31, 1890, para. 14
5. Ellen G. White, “Enter the Cities,” Ms. 7, 1908 (Feb. 24, 1908), para. 3.
6. Ellen G. White, “How Much Owest Thou Unto My Lord?” Ms. 79, May 1, 1899.
7. Ellen G. White, “Our Duty Toward the Jews,” Ms. 87, August 16, 1907.
8. Ellen White, Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 8 (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1904), 50.