28 Mar


By Mic Thurber … What I will speak about today was much easier to present five or six years ago. Since then, our public discourse has become strained and coarse. Whether the genesis of the argument is politics, the pandemic, or theology, differences of opinion are now seen as cause to consider someone as our enemy. Many have seen that atmosphere invade church life and discourse.

I enter this plea: can we please tone it down? Can we find a way to ratchet down the atmosphere when we speak of our differences? And can we somehow find room in our hearts to love, worship with, pray for, and journey toward the Kingdom alongside those who differ from our personal viewpoint?

This does not mean, however, that we cannot have spirited discourse and even debate. Our early church founders—whether in New Testament times or in the mid to late 1800s and early 1900s—were disposed to sometimes heated disagreements.

I remember my first real exposure to how closely held a personal point of view can be and how helpful a challenge to that view can also be. It came from an experience my father had when we were in the process of moving from Glendale, California, to Keene, Texas. My dad had just decided to leave the King’s Heralds Quartet and move our family to Texas where he would begin his work as conference youth director, a position that would soon become youth evangelist.

While on one of his trips to Texas, prior to our actual move, he had gone to the lot where the foundation of our new house had just been poured. As he was walking around inspecting it and visualizing how all the rooms would be laid out on the slab, a man approached him with a question asked in such a tone of voice as to give away his own feelings on the matter. His question? “I understand you are the new youth director for the Texas Conference, and I want to know what your stand is on guitars?”

This question was asked in the summer of 1967, so my father’s reply was timely: “Well, with all the Beatles and bugs crawling all around the world dragging their guitars behind them, guitars are really a problem.” The man seemed well satisfied with the answer–-at least until my dad punctuated his answer with a few more words.

“But I worry about something even more than guitars,” my dad went on to say. “What’s that?” asked the man. “The piano,” my dad said. “Every bar in the country has a piano in it yet we allow it in our churches.”

My first introduction to a moment of strong disagreement. This story taught me some valuable lessons. First, we will not all agree. Second, we can be spirited in our disagreement and still be decent to one another. Third, we should give broad latitude to each other to disagree and not disparage one another when the subject of our disagreement is not a centrally held, doctrinal position. Fourth, allow and expect that context matters, and that judgment about many things can change over time. Within a few months of this story, my dad brought home my very first guitar, which became my early life’s passion. I dedicated it to the Lord’s service and ended up playing guitar for many years in hundreds of church settings and youth gatherings.

It’s easy to see our church as a church in which everything is settled and there is no more room for discussion. As the world becomes ever more complex and the enemy becomes more sophisticated in his traps and attacks, it seems to me that if ever there was a time to keep studying, keep learning, keep dialoguing, it is now.

So, let us not be afraid to disagree. But can we do it with grace, kindness, and openness? And can we please do it with the goal of helping each other across the finish line? If that is our commitment, I believe God will use our time of mutual engagement to help us grow ever closer to His image and to the Kingdom yet to come.

–Mic Thurber is the RMC president. Email him at: [email protected]

28 Mar


By Shawn Brace … One of the most heralded and influential theologians in nineteenth-century America was a man by the name of Charles Hodge. He taught at Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey, one of America’s most important schools of divinity, and was an architect of the so-called “Princeton theology.” An “Old School” Presbyterian who didn’t care for the revivalism that swept over America in the nineteenth century, Hodge was devoted to classic Calvinism and had a deep suspicion of and disdain for novel theology and religious expression.

Of all the things Hodge wrote and said, however, one passing statement, shared in 1872 at the fiftieth anniversary of his professorship at Princeton, has captivated my imagination the most. Looking back at his long tenure at the seminary, which began just a decade after its founding, Hodge boasted, without a hint of irony or embarrassment, that “Princeton had never been charged with originating a new idea.”

While perhaps given to a bit of hyperbole, Hodge viewed this as a badge of honor, of course. As a dyed-in-the-wool conservative, who believed it was his mission to preserve and defend the great verities that the Reformers had uncovered in the sixteenth century, Hodge looked with incredible suspicion at theological innovation.

I’d like to say that Adventism in the twenty-first century would not align with Charles Hodge. But I wonder.

Ironically, it was in this precise setting that Adventism arose. And their theological approach was diametrically opposed to Hodge’s. Just about every theological idea the small Advent movement recovered—from the sanctuary teaching to the state of the dead to the rejection of an ever-burning hell—was new and novel in the nine-teenth century. The early Adventist pioneers repeatedly went against the grain in their theological agenda, seeking to follow truth wherever it might lead, even if it was considered heretical to the mainstream.

They believed truth was ever advancing and that no idea should be rejected outright, but should be honestly evaluated in light of Scripture, come what may.

It was precisely for this reason that they committed themselves to “present truth” and strongly resisted the idea of setting their stakes in the doctrinal ground, zealously rejecting creeds and any move toward creedalism. Just 11 years before Hodge’s famous statement, the leaders of the fledging movement expressed that precise commitment.

Meeting together to decide if they wanted to organize, in what would ultimately become, perhaps ironically, the Michigan Conference, James White proposed that interested churches “associate together” under the name “Seventh-day Adventist,” covenanting merely to “keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus Christ.” That was literally the only thing a church had to affirm in order to come under the name “Seventh-day Adventist.”

And yet, despite this minimal requirement, James White sensed some resistance among those present, even as the motion passed. He therefore urged a “full and free discussion,” insisting that “the sisters” take “part in the vote” as well. In the ensuing discussion, various speakers expressed their support for the resolution, while James White himself played the devil’s advocate, noting that organizing might appear to some like they were “patterning” themselves after the churches of Babylon.

But then J. N. Loughborough came forward, proposing that it would not be like Babylon to organize by covenanting together, just as it wasn’t to set up “meeting-houses,” as they had done. The way a church could become like Babylon, he offered, was by setting up strict doctrinal parameters and carefully policing theology.

He then dropped this bomb, which has captured the Adventist imagination to varying degrees throughout our history: “The first step of apostasy,” he explained, “is to get up a creed, telling us what we shall believe. The second is to make that creed a test of fellowship. The third is to try members by that creed. The fourth, to denounce as heretics those who do not believe that creed. And fifth, to commence persecution against such.”

Loughborough was making it clear: Adventists believed in the continuing advancement of truth. They had no interest in shutting down doctrinal and theological discovery. God was still revealing more truth—“present truth”—to them, and they must be open to it, refusing to become settled in their views and making those views into a “creed” whereby they “denounce[d] as heretics” those who did “not believe that creed.” James White, for his part, fully affirmed Loughborough’s perspective. “Making a creed,” he said, “is setting the stakes, and barring up the way to all future advancement.”

It was clear for James White and J. N. Loughborough— and all Adventists of their day: foundational to the Adventist identity and mission was a belief that God was continuing to unfold the revelation of Himself. They must therefore be open to further truth, refusing to categorically close their ears and minds to diverging viewpoints, even if they challenged existing doctrine.

This was, of course, at odds with the program of Charles Hodge and others who constituted “Babylon” who believed the great task of the church was to simply bog down and guard orthodoxy at all costs.

Are we still open?

This historic openness to new light and disdain for creedalism has become a particularly intriguing topic for me. Soon after my local church started taking its missional calling more seriously, prioritizing incarnational living and personal discipleship, the history of anti creedalism within Adventism became more relevant and confrontational to me. What does it mean to be a part of a community? What are the parameters by which a person can belong? Do they have to check off all the doctrinal boxes that our church has insisted upon for the last 75 or so years? Are we truly open to “new light” and “present truth” anymore?

Such questions led to an intellectual crossroads for me, and I chose to make them the basis for doctoral research. I’ve been studying the history of anti-creedalism—not only in Adventism but other religious communities as well. And, as anyone who has ever pursued an advanced degree can tell you: it’s complicated.

Thus far, my research has led to more questions than answers. And it’s not as simple, it doesn’t seem to me, as just allowing an “anything goes” approach. I highly doubt, for example, that J. N. Loughborough or James White, as open as they were to varying perspectives, would have been enthusiastic about welcoming a dogmatic anti-Sabbatarian to preach from their pulpits Sabbath after Sabbath after Sabbath.

At the same time, even the most committed progressives in our day probably wouldn’t be excited about giving a platform to an anti-LGBT, pro-Trump, doomsday preacher. None of us, in the end, are so committed to anti-creedalism that we fully include anyone and everyone. There are, I think, some ideas worth protecting, and that’s where the rub comes.

But we need to at least acknowledge our history and recognize the tension. We need to get back to the doctrinal basics—being, perhaps, theological minimalists—and create a space where people can respectfully share their viewpoints, even if they seem novel, believing there is still more to discover (it seems to me that perhaps the attitude with which people hold and offer their perspective is more important than the perspective itself). Only then will we be truly Adventist.

–Shawn Brace is a pastor in Bangor, Maine, whose life, ministry, and writing focus on incarnational expressions of faith. The author of four books and a columnist for Adventist Review, he is also a DPhil student at the University of Oxford, focusing on nineteenth-century American Christianity. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @shawnbrace, and sign up for his weekly newsletter at:shawnbrace.substack.com

28 Mar


By Reinder Bruinsma … Dutch Adventists are often described as rather liberal, but eating out on Sabbath has always been a no-no.

Great was their amazement when in 1995, tens of thousands of fellow believers descended upon the city of Utrecht for the General Conference session, and great numbers were seen to spread out all over the city on Sabbath in search of a restaurant. Those Adventists who have done a fair bit of traveling and have been in contact with church members in countries with different cultures have noticed that the praxis of Adventists varies considerably from place to place.

Nowadays, in most places, my wedding ring no longer causes offense, but when preaching in a rural church in Costa Rica, the pastor implored me not to create a problem in his church by wearing my ring. When I occasionally preach in the Ghanaian Adventist Church

in Amsterdam, my wedding band is no problem, but my wife’s simple necklace is frowned upon. To the dismay of many visiting fellow believers in Scandinavia, Adventists usually equate “low-alcoholic” with “non-alcoholic,” and the way some Australian pastors are dressed when they enter the pulpit would not go over well with most Adventist audiences elsewhere in the world. When serving for several years in tropical Africa, I learned that I must wear a tie and a jacket in church even when the temperature is in the upper eighties. This is what our African brothers and sisters were taught by western missionaries (from whom they also learned the still popular song: Whiter than snow, o Lord would I be!).

A world church must expect diversity

I could cite numerous other examples of how Adventist practices around the world vary, not just from country to country, but often from region to region within a country, and between population segments with different ethnic origins and cultures.

In her e-book From Sundown to Sundown, Dr. May-Ellen Colón, an assistant director of the Sabbath School and Personal Ministries department of the General Conference, compares Sabbath-keeping practices in fifty-one different countries. She concludes that, if you make a composite list of all things that in some places are deemed inappropriate to do on the Sabbath, and adopt that list, you can do virtually nothing, and if you make a similar list of all things that somewhere are considered okay, virtually nothing seems taboo!

Often people, when first confronted with practices elsewhere that would be frowned upon in their own Adventist milieu or when hearing and reading about customs that differ considerably from what they have grown up with and are used to, wonder how the church can remain united if we practice our faith in so many ways. Admittedly, there may be practices that are questionable in the light of some of the church’s teachings. But in most cases, we are dealing with culture and tradition rather than principle. In a church that has become truly global and has spread to almost all countries of the world, with countless differ- ent ethnicities and cultures represented, we must expect significant diversity in the way people translate their faith into everyday life. It means, in fact, that the church is alive. Enforcing total uniformity in the way people express their beliefs would not only be impossible, but also an unnatural sign of rigidity!

The reality of doctrinal differences

Some readers may react with a “so far, so good,” but would be adamant that diversity in the church must be restricted to practices and customs. They may agree that ethnic and cultural differences are acceptable in a global denomination such as ours, or maybe even enriching our community if we remain united in our theology. Adventists around the world should share, they say, the same approach to Scripture and the theology that results from this, as is expressed in the 28 Fundamental Beliefs. Well, the reality is quite different. Whether we like it or not, there is plenty of theological diversity in our church. In fact, this is not a recent development, but despite a growing consensus over time regarding our main teachings, diversity has existed from the beginning.

To say that the membership of the church is divided between conservatives and liberals is not very helpful. There are many shades of conservatism and many degrees of liberalism. Moreover, some are conservative in their theology, but not so in their lifestyle. And vice-versa. It may be better to speak of different streams or modalities. This is not unique to Adventists. As time has passed, most denominations have experienced the development

of different theological streams. This often led to schisms in faith communities, when the gaps between the various groups of believers became so wide that people felt they had no option but to go different ways. The Adventist Church is, in fact, quite an exception in that it has stayed together without many major secessions. Perhaps we could say that some of the independent ministries provide a haven for individuals and groups which feel that the denomination allows for too many voices which defend or even promote ideas that do not fit with traditional Adventist orthodox views.

What are some of the areas in which we see a diversity of theological opinion? In the first place, we do not all read the Bible in the same way. On the one hand, there are those who maintain that a “plain” reading of the Scriptures is the only safe way to find Truth, whereas others have a totally different view of inspiration. For many, it means that everything was created by God in “recent” times within a period of six literal days. But an increasing number of church members, while firmly believing that God is the Creator, argue that the Bible is not a book of science, but a book of faith and theology and that it does not inform us about the “how” of creation but about the meaning of creation.

It does not take much effort to detect that the relationship between faith and works is approached in different ways. There are those who are sure that sinful people, such as we admittedly are, can reach a state of sinless perfection, while others consider this a blasphemous idea. Much discussion (and, unfortunately, much controversy) divides Adventists about such topics as the true human nature of Christ, and the issue of the Trinity. Views about the prophecies which, together with the input of Ellen G. White, have shaped the traditional Adventist end-time scenario, are widely divergent. For some, the old-time views are as valid as ever, while others feel that a re-evaluation is a matter of urgency. Aspects of our sanctuary doctrine, about the ordination of female ministers, and about gender identity, are other hotly debated issues.

What to do?

Unfortunately, we often find that people have come to a particular conclusion and are no longer willing (or able?) to listen with an open mind to the standpoints of others. The doctrinal positions have led to a serious degree of polarization, dividing (in many minds) the members into “genuine” Adventists, who are loyal to the Truth, and “apostate” Adventists, who undermine the Adventist message and mission.

It would be unrealistic to deny that this doctrinal diversity does not pose a challenge for the denomination. Understandably, church leaders want to keep us all together; they want peace and emphasize that unity in our thinking and in the way we present our message is a prerequisite for maintaining a vigorous mission outreach. However, they must also face the sad reality that members (young and not so young) leave the church in droves, because they feel that their church has left them and no longer answers their questions and fails, to a large extent, to connect the Adventist faith with 21st-century life.

A faith community will inevitably become a museum if its major concern is to conserve the past. Instead, while traditional ways of understanding the Bible remain an important source of inspiration, in a living community, there must be an ever-ongoing search for a deeper understanding of what believing in Christ, and being an Adventist, means today and tomorrow. This process can create unrest and even a sense of uncertainty. Not all members will at any given time be on the same page and share in identical developments—including doctrinal development—and the church will not everywhere proceed in the same manner and at the same pace. Yes, a living community will be characterized by an underlying unity but will, at the same time, also exhibit diversity. The existence of different modalities in the church is not a sure sign of confusion and theological decay, but an inevitable, and even healthy, indication that the church is alive.

An acknowledgment that not all doctrines are equally important and that, perhaps, we should have fewer, rather than more, fundamental beliefs would reflect the thinking of a large number of (or possibly most) Adventists. Allowing for a responsible degree of academic freedom

for our theologians and for a measure of diversity in denominational publications, and for experimenting with non-traditional ways of being church, and with new ways of “translating” our message to reach new kinds of audiences—all these things certainly carry risks. But enforcing a one-and-only correct interpretation of what we consider to be biblical truth is no option—simply because experience has shown that this can never work!

Finally, one aspect must be highlighted. It is time to take another good look at global Adventism. We see strengths and weaknesses. We discern polarization and much theological diversity. However, if we analyze what is happening within the various “modalities,” we continue to see, behind all diversity, an underlying unity. We may think differently about the nature of Christ, but for all of us, Christ is the Lord and the “Author” of our salvation. We may keep the Sabbath in different ways, but we all continue to believe that the seventh-day Sabbath is a precious gift to mankind. We may disagree on aspects of end-time prophecies, but we are united in our conviction that “a great controversy” continues to rage and that history moves, maybe slowly, but surely, towards the climactic Coming of Christ. And this applies to most doctrines: we can gratefully acknowledge of a fundamental unity behind the significant diversity. Moreover, we must give one another the time and the space to grow in our understanding of biblical truth and be willing to learn from others as we prayerfully seek answers to our questions.

Keeping this in mind, we do not have to be obsessed— or even concerned—by the existence of modalities, but we can see the various theological streams as expressions of the rich Christian-Adventist experience that we want to share with people around us.

–Reinder Bruinsma, PhD, has served the Seventh-day Adventist Church in publishing, education, and church administration on three continents. He writes from the Netherlands where he lives with his wife Aafie. Among his latest books is I Have a Future: Christ’s Resurrection and Mine. Email him at: [email protected]

28 Mar


By John Skrzypaszek …


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.


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.


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.

28 Mar


By Barry Casey … One of the things that enlivens any gathering of Adventists is the flow of stories about their upbringing. There will be stories about polishing shoes for Sabbath on Friday afternoons or cleaning the house or what could or couldn’t be done on Sabbath afternoon. Some will raise memories of Sabbath School, others of falling asleep to the bedtime stories of Uncle Arthur and of the change from the Youth’s Instructor to Insight.

These are origin stories, something like a personal Genesis of Adventism. We would be incomplete without them, both as individuals and as a community. Were we to do this ritual in any country in the world with fellow Adventists, we would hear continuity and disjunction, common themes as well as all the particularities of place and time, gender, ethnicity, and language? As has been pointed out many times, Adventists are wonderfully diverse.

Diversity within Adventism brings its own tensions: witness the painful struggle to come to terms with our sons and daughters in the LGBTQ+ community. Progress toward equality for women arrives in fits and starts, especially concerning women in leadership, including pastorships and the ordination that should accompany it. Racial inequality continues to shake our foundations, challenging the assumptions of the North American church.

It’s the assumptions that undermine us. Most of the time they are hidden, like foundation stones, and as long as the house stands upright, everything at right angles, they rest unchallenged. But when the house begins to sink and tilt, we dig down around the foundations and hope that it’s not too late for major repairs.

As they relate to diversity of thought within the church, there are two assumptions I have had to examine for myself.

The first is the construct that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is playing a unique and decisive role in history, that it will stand forth as the hinge upon which the whole universe will turn.

This was so much a part of my religious education that I saw no reason to question it until I began to read and study other world faiths and traditions. Then it became clearer that in order to maintain this unique position, it was necessary to believe that other religious traditions were either victims or perpetrators of deception. Our unique role was to save the victims from their deception and refute the deceivers.

The questions I had were about the certainty of our interpretation of the Bible and of prophecy, and whether the Holy Spirit was exclusive to our domain. In time I came to see that our truth claims could be understood from different perspectives, not all of them asserting that we had sole rights to The Truth.

It seemed likely that the emphases on the beauty and creativity of the Sabbath, the assurance of the Second Advent, and the importance of caring for the body, mind, and spirit, were recollections of resistance to a materialistic and despairing world. They offered practical ways to live from a stance of hopefulness. Our remembering and living out of this resistance were our contribution to humanity. These modest truths were among the many ways the Spirit had lifted up truth in the history of Christianity.

These truths that we hold in humility and exercise in grace do not—and should not—keep us from enjoying and benefiting from the rich traditions of other Christian traditions and other faiths. Every religion has something of value to share with us among a long history of practice. We can work alongside them, enjoy their worship, and be in fellowship with them. We may learn through comparison and contrast: the similarities will strengthen us; the differences will cause us to test our own assumptions.

The second assumption I continue to examine is related to the previous one. If the first singled us out from all of humanity, the second assumption, exclusivity, is the result of the first. It’s not something entirely within our control. Paul calls us to live sober lives, to live according to the Spirit and not the flesh. Yet, Jesus calls us to be light and salt and yeast in the world, to immerse ourselves in our communities and to be present to others. We are fallible humans attempting to be faithful disciples.

This is one of those fruitful tensions in the Christian life—how to be in the world and not of the world. I think it begins with humility and is sustained through grace. Before we are Christians, we are humans: fallen beings of glorious potential. We are part of the human race, subject to all its failings, horrors, despair, and fallibility. Humility is the proper response to these limitations; grace is the means to live with them.

This does away with triumphalism and the arrogance of “Onward, Christian Soldiers.” It calls us to avoid the prosperity gospel in all its forms and its opposite, a martyr complex that results in paranoia. We are here on this earth, and we have been called to God’s kingdom. We live in that tension.

This tension speaks of the most basic and most pernicious assumption, the one we rarely confront: that diversity as a fact within Adventism is an obstacle and a hindrance to uniformity. But that is a discussion for another time.

Practically speaking, living within that tension blurs the line between the so-called “sacred” and “secular.” As Jesus said to the Samaritan women, we will worship neither in Jerusalem nor in Samaria, but in the Spirit—a portable worship within the world. Like Jesus, we do this in order to speak and to listen to those who are unlike ourselves. This is hard. This is something I shrink from, even as I am curious and hungering to know how others think and act. But these metaphors of salt, light, and yeast are the very templates of life in Jesus’ kingdom.

The experiences we live are the currency of human communication. The experiences of others—written, spoken, lived out, viewed—are our textbooks for life. But I should amend that: to call them “textbooks” connotes a fixed curriculum, a grade, and a final result. They are more likely points of contact between people and imply a presence that lingers, overcoming distance, time, and prejudice. It is through this presence, a voice and a spirit, that we grasp by analogy what it means to worship God in spirit and in truth.

If our experiences of God in Christ mean anything, they will come to us as we are immersed in our lives of doing laundry, sitting in traffic, and trying to understand and be understood by others. God is God overall. This continual act of translation between the inward work of the Spirit and our outward life with others invites suppleness and receptivity rather than isolation and exclusiveness.

The most authentic response to the Spirit I can make every day is to recognize the risen Christ in the midst of the buzzing, blooming confusion of life. The work of the Spirit is to lead me into truth, not once for all, but continually, day by day, for life.

–Barry Casey taught religion, philosophy, and communication for 37 years in Maryland and Washington, D.C. He is now retired and writing in Burtonsville, Maryland. More of the author’s writing can be found on his blog, Dante’s Woods. His first collection of essays, Wandering, Not Lost, was recently published by Wipf and Stock. Email him at: [email protected]

28 Mar


By Mark Johnson … “Why are you so loyal to the Church?”

This question was recently asked of me by my father, whose journey into and out of Adventism over a 97-year period makes an interesting case study.

He was not being critical or cynical. He was not necessarily being complimentary. He was just comparing the similarities and differences in our experiences with the organization.

I had no ready answer for him but after some thought,

I have concluded that there is one main reason why I have remained in the Church while he has chosen to leave. He was raised in an era when Adventists were not “allowed” to ask questions, and I was blessed with parents, pastors, and teachers who encouraged them (my father was led to believe the Church wouldn’t, or couldn’t, seriously address his issues and concerns, while I have discovered a robust and cohesive theology, hidden away in Adventist teachings, that makes a great deal of sense to me).

Paradoxically, while my father marvels at my loyalty, others have wondered if I am a real Adventist.

A church is recognized by its beliefs and behaviors. Beliefs are determined through the processes of exegesis and hermeneutics, and these beliefs then lead to certain behaviors among the members. Those who doubt a church’s use of exegesis and hermeneutics, are skeptics. If one disagrees with a church’s beliefs, they are a heretic. If one flouts a church’s behaviors, they are rebellious.

Rebels send the message to the youth and weaker members of a church that the rules of the carefully cultivated lifestyle are irrelevant. This threatens social disintegration. Thus, the community must act to stigmatize dissent.

But it is so easy to be a rebel in the Adventist Church! There are so many rules to break!

As a young man growing up in a small-town Adventist church and school, I subconsciously categorized my class- mates’ families by how strictly they adhered to the Adventist “blueprint.” The best Adventist families had a mother and a father who were still in their first marriage; they did not, however, wear wedding rings to prove it, nor did they wear any jewelry; they claimed to believe in the Bible as the only rule of faith, but they also tended to include the writings of Ellen G. White; they regularly attended and actively participated in the weekly church services; they did not work, eat out, or do anything personally pleasurable on Sabbath; they did not go to the theater, nor did they dance; they had daily family worship, reading from the annual Adventist devotional books and the Sabbath School lesson quarterlies; they were vegetarian; they did not smoke; they did not drink alcohol, coffee, tea or cola; the females dressed modestly and behaved with appropriately-subdued decorum; the males had crewcut or flat-top haircuts and took strong leadership roles; the children went to Adventist schools; they denied being legalistic, but the attitude of “give me another law and I’ll keep it,” was frequently encountered; and, those of appropriate age voted a straight (in both meanings of the word) Republican ticket (I did not meet an Adventist who was openly a Democrat until I was in college, or a gay or lesbian Adventist until many years later).

Unconditional and disinterested love was a concept we heartily endorsed, but just as vigorously ignored.

The clearest way to express rebellion in the Church was by smoking. Alcohol use was a close second. These behaviors essentially signaled to other members that you no longer wished to be considered an Adventist. Many of the rest of the rules could be breached in ways that conveyed individuality without showing an unacceptable level of open defiance. In those halcyon days of communal naivete, one could retain membership, though draw a great deal of criticism, by wearing earrings, or short skirts, or Beatle-length hair, or by swimming on Sabbath, or publicly drinking a CokeTM or going to see something like The Sound of Music in a movie theater.

Over time, the level of rebelliousness attributed to various questionable behaviors waxed and waned. In college, the stigma of movie-going had become rather passé, but the length of my hair was of very great concern. Also, the attitudes and guidelines around sexual behaviors took on a much greater emphasis.

Heresy takes more work than rebellion. It begins with a skeptical attitude of doubt, but it requires a fairly in-depth understanding of doctrine to achieve. For Adventists, the most common source of heresy is uncertainty surrounding inspiration. While several pastors have told me one does not need to believe in the inspired writings of Ellen G. White to be a good Adventist, her pronouncements are so intertwined in our basic beliefs and doctrines that it is a very difficult position to balance successfully. It has been my experience that most members who lose faith in the inspiration of Ellen G. White eventually see little reason to remain in the denomination.

While many members may rebel against the apparently rigid rules found in some of Ellen G. White’s writings, I believe that true heretical dissent in the Church comes mainly from a resistance to her views of what happened on the cross. C. S. Lewis stated that “The central Christian belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start. Theories as to how it did this are another matter.” I would argue that theories as to why Christ had to die are also important matters.

In large part, it is these atonement models that separate denominations from one another and differentiate heresy from orthodoxy in the Adventist Church. While many of us may focus on those things that we think make us different, such as our beliefs on a recent creation, the gift of prophecy, Christ’s work in the heavenly sanctuary, the meaning of the Sabbath, the nature of man in death, the role of the remnant and the end of sinners, I believe the crux (Latin for “cross”) of the problem that ultimately divides us is what we believe happened on the cross and why.

I do not have the space here to explore the various atonement models, but suffice it to say, it has been

my experience that most evangelical Christians and Adventists agree that the importance of the cross is that by shedding His blood, Christ somehow bought forgiveness from sin for those who accept His sacrifice, thus granting them a path to eternal salvation and keeping them from the fires of hell. This is basic Reformation theology, and it may be wonderfully good news for sinners.

My reading of the Bible, Ellen G. White, and some leading Adventist theologians, however, has led me in a slightly different direction. It has been called a heretical direction by some. I believe that my personal salvation is not of primary importance to the rest of the universe. It was not the principal reason for Christ’s mission to earth. It is, however, a wonderful by-product of His infinite goodness. Christ came primarily to reveal and vindicate the character of God. This needed to be done to answer the questions that had led to the rebellion of sin in the first place: Can God be trusted? Does He truly love His creatures? Does sin really lead to death? What is God’s role in the death of sinners? Are His methods and motives as benevolent as He claims them to be? Can the universe truly be governed on the principle of love? What difference does it make why we obey Him, just as long as we do?

The problem, as I see it, is not with our fundamental beliefs. It is in how we emphasize and present them.

Every Adventist I know claims to love Jesus and supports justification by the righteousness of Christ as revealed on the cross and agrees that the preeminence of the character of God is vital and sees the importance of an orderly universe governed by the laws of God, including the Sabbath.

But there are at least two streams of Adventism. Each stream accepts our fundamental beliefs but presents a very different picture to the world of what we claim to believe. One group appears to value mercy and the unconditional, disinterested love of God for all fallen humanity. They believe that the truth spoken in love is God’s only instrument of persuasion and healing. The other group appears to worship a God of fearful judgment. They believe that the truth presented with terrifying images of apocalyptic beasts and final destruction is the best way to achieve conversions.

While our theology must account for both mercy and judgment, we do not worship a two-faced God. Fear is used to manipulate and control. Love casts out fear. Skep- tic, rebel, and heretic that I am, count me in the group that believes in unconditional love, even in judgment.

–Mark Johnson, MD, is a retired public health physician and the chairman of the Boulder Vision Board. Email him at: [email protected]

28 Mar


By Tony Hunter … The ability to think is horribly inconvenient.

And, while it’s bad enough that I possess this uncomfortable ability, other people can apparently do it as well. This is both unfortunate and problematic. How are we, as a people, supposed to maintain a perfectly identical and uniform set of beliefs and practices if just anyone can have ideas and inspiration and original thought? How can we all be the same and be comfortable in our homogeny if someone else somewhere else thinks better and differently than the person responsible for the thinking that led to our uniform traditions and practices that allow us the luxury of conducting ourselves without the burden of thought and consideration?

Don’t the newer thinkers, with their more complete palate of information and subsequent alternative perspective, understand that our forefathers already figured everything out? I mean, really. Those original pre-Adventists who became Adventists already went through the trouble of coming from different backgrounds with different ideas and shared them together so that everyone could learn from each other and gain a perspective of God and reality that they didn’t already possess. They already took the extra time to fellowship together, but then encourage each other to continue fellowshipping with their original groups so that they could learn from both sides and maybe come to even greater and better understandings, and maybe help those around them do the same.

As we all now know, they figured it all out so that we didn’t have to put any real thought into our faith and beliefs and God and reality and health and science and love and anything, and then they predicted the end of the world with accuracy so stunning that they sold everything and left their fields unplowed and succeeded in going to heaven.

Well, okay, they got that part wrong, but they gave it a good think, figured it all out again and moved forward through shared ideas about health and the Sabbath and revised it all more than a few times so that we don’t have to. They even took the time to make sure they never formulated a creedal statement or organized a formal religion because to formalize an organized religion would be akin to becoming Babylon because focus would shift from

real progressive thought and continued present truth, to simply doing whatever to maintain the organization at the expense of the true mission. And they never made a creedal statement because they knew we would keep learning and thinking and discovering and if they cemented stuff, new thought couldn’t really take place.

Okay, okay, that’s my bad again. It took them less than 20 years to decide to formalize their organization for the sake of finances and expansion of ministry, and then another 25 or so before the very organization that they started, against their own judgment, started ostracizing the very people who formed it for the high crime of thinking better thoughts and valuing love over tradition. At least they had the clarity of thinking to ship off their primary thought leader, who they believed had an inspired and prophetic gift, to a country far, far away so she couldn’t promote uncomfortable ideas and encourage people to think more.

Whew, right? They totally dodged that bullet.

But at least they never formalized any sort of creed like they said they wouldn’t. At no point did they create a list of fundamental beliefs that in many, and even most, circles became the criteria for baptism instead of the cross of Christ and Him crucified.

I mean, okay, I guess they sort of did that too. But thank goodness, right?! At least then they had this document written down so that people could officially not have to think anymore. Well, sure, they could think, obviously,

as long as what they thought was even better ways of coming to the exact same conclusions they had already come to. Because that’s what thinking is for. It’s for thinking the same thing they thought before and discovering new things, as long as they were the same things they

already knew. Because to come to a different conclusion meant they might fire you and ship you off to another country again.

And really, who can af-FORD that kind of inconvenience?

It’s just really fortunate that we figured out that to use the minds that God gave us and the ability to think with them was a terrible idea. What was God thinking? I certainly don’t know, but He clearly wasn’t thinking it as good as we were. Otherwise, He wouldn’t have let us do it.


God should have known, as we do, that difference and diversity are bad. How can we be all the same with that kind of mess? If someone else starts thinking, they will come to a conclusion that may be different, and then we will have to tell them they are wrong and bad. If people just weren’t allowed to think, then no one would ever be wrong and bad!

See how simple and blissful thoughtlessness can be? It’s such a peaceful, beautiful thing.

If we can just keep thought and thinking away, we can keep everything the way we like it and everyone in their place—all the men where they are supposed to be, all the women where THEY need to be, and all the not-white people in their place too. Because if we think about it

too much and do it with any sort of integrity, another problem to be avoided, we might find that none of us is better than the other and that God doesn’t hate the differences in any of us, and we’d have to treat each other with equality and love.

It’s a good thing we already showed that God doesn’t really know what’s up.

What we really need is to randomly be that one thing Jesus named us, and do it out of context, and just be like sheep. And then just follow whichever fluffy white one is in

front, and if we can all do it, it will be okay. Because when whichever mostly blind sheep in front walks off the cliff, all the rest of us can go down with him.

Okay, now I’m going to step off my soapbox of sarcasm.

Everyone is different. This was an intentional design by our Creator. We look different, sound different, act different, and think different. This is as it should be. It was God’s will and desire and that has not changed. We are finite beings with finite knowledge who know very little. If we want to know more, we have to pray, study, and think. If we want to grow, we have to think.

Muscles only grow when they are placed in tension with themselves and their environment. That is also how we grow. We place our minds in tension with ourselves and the thoughts around us. We don’t already know it all. We haven’t thought all the thoughts.

Adventists don’t know everything. We haven’t thought everything. We don’t have all the facts. And the ramifications of that are huge.

Perhaps that’s something worth thinking about.

–Tony Hunter is a Seventh-day Adventist pastor and a hospice chaplain working for Elevation Hospice in Northern Colorado. Tony and his wife Nirma live in Firestone, Colorado. Email him at: [email protected]

28 Mar


By Shayne Mason Vincent … Having been a devoted lover of metal music prior to my conversion, it was embarrassing to admit I was a Chris- tian. Most of my young life had been dedicated to anger and being hard. So, when I first came into the Adventist faith, I was relieved by the fact that I didn’t have to share the cheesy “Jesus loves you” line with everyone. Adventism was, thankfully, heady, not sappy.

I remember an experience during those times when I was donating plasma (my gas and cigarette fund). The fella next to me had his machine land on the number 666 and commented on it with a shudder. I saw it as the perfect opportunity to share the mark of the beast! But my captive audience, for some reason, wasn’t so excited (neither were my uncle, my friends, and basically almost everyone I talked with).

A few months passed and I was “witnessing” at a local park. An unwitting passerby had been trapped in my zealous, “fall of Babylon faith” spiel when we heard someone screaming. We looked over to the left where a young lady on rollerblades was rocketing down an embankment that ended abruptly at a solid stone wall. It didn’t end well. Feeling the prompting of the Spirit, I went down to help. But her family was fast on her heels and made it there first. And so, there I stood, clueless and gawking. After a minute or two when someone else walked up, the mother said with steely eyes, “Oh great, another spectator.” I was cut to the heart.

For the first time, it dawned on me how useless my pontificating was when someone was in actual need. It was at that moment that the Spirit sliced open a piece of my hard heart with a recent sermon I had heard, “Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:10 NKJV). The preacher pressed his point home, “If the keeping of the law is love, then all our talk about the law, the law, the law, is clueless and blind, because righteousness is love!”

I walked away from the scene stunned as the meaning of his sermon hit home. Painfully, I realized my hypocrisy. It meant that my baptism, my knowledge, my condemnation of other denominations didn’t make me a Christian—only the evidence of the fruit of the Spirit could do that. As it says in 1 Corinthians 13:2 (CSB), “If I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so that I can move mountains but

do not have love, I am nothing.” My faith was powerless because I had viewed the very nature of God as “cheesy.”

Since those days, I have asked congregations, “What is righteousness?” And their answers were always the same, “the keeping of the law.” My heart aches at the many times I have heard in Sabbath schools, “All Christians ever talk about is ‘love, love, love’; we need to get back to the ‘truth’!” But doctrine is cold comfort when you’re in a nursing home and no one visits you. Doctrine is cold comfort for a child who needs a father. Doctrine is cold comfort when your boss is a tyrant and your responsibilities to family give you no option but to stay.

People need more from life than platitudes. They need Jesus. If I truly loved the “law of God” as I claimed, then I should have also been obsessed with “love,” because that is what it means to keep the law. As it says in James 1:27 (TVB), Real, true religion from God the Father’s perspective is about caring for the orphans and widows who suffer needlessly … Needless suffering. Interesting word—needless. It means it doesn’t have to be that way.

I slowly came to realize that righteousness wasn’t something special, apart from normal life, above the “common.” Holiness had become an idol for me, as though it was the vehicle to God, rather than a gift from Him. The Truth I needed to “get back to” was Jesus. His life of love and sacrifice are the fulfillment of the truth! For He is the Truth (John 14:6).

Therefore, when a parent doesn’t yell and shame their kid when they mess up, they have performed a holy act. Instead, they come alongside their child, and with patient kindness, show them a better way. They are being like Jesus. The one who is closest to God is the mother that wakes up at 2 a.m. to lovingly feed her screaming child.

Or the parent who works a 50-hour week doing a job they hate so their kids are provided for. And then when they get home, they love on their children, instead of drinking their troubles away. That is what real righteousness and character look like because it is done in the Spirit’s fruit of love.

Need proof? Here is the biblical “here a little, there a little” formula:

God is righteous (Deuteronomy 32:3-4) and The law is righteous (Psalms 119:75-76)
God is love (1 John 4:7-8) and The fulfillment of law is love (Rom 13:8-10; Gal 5:13-14)
If God and the law are righteous, and God and the law are love, then Righteousness is Love!

Just imagine if Adventism was known for its love! If when people spoke of us, they didn’t automatically think, “Oh, the vegetarians,” or, “Oh, the Ellen G. White thing.” What would Adventism look like if the gospel were at the core of all our beliefs:

The Second Coming would be about God bringing hope to those living in a world that is falling apart.
The resurrection for the dead would be God giving hope for those who have lost the ones they love most.
Health would just be something that exponentially improves your life.
Sabbath would be known as an escape from the exhaustion of industrialization.
Church would be known as an experience of acceptance and supportive love and family for those lonely in an isolated world.
The judgment would be reserved for God putting an end to corruption and injustice in this world.
And salvation would be about knowing God and being grateful for what He freely gives us.

That day at the park completely changed the trajectory of my life. I began to love those who were right around me; and it was because I actually cared, not because it was expected, or in the pursuit of salvation. I learned to soften my heart, even with my enemies. And while there have been many ups and downs in my relationship with God, my soul is alive. My walls have come down. I even began tearing up watching Anne of Green Gables for the first time. Believe me, even being able to watch that show was a bigger miracle than quitting smoking!

And best of all, my “Mark of the Beast” evangelism has become a tongue-in-cheek part of my past. My friends and I now joke to the single guys, “Just tell her about the mark of the beast and she’ll be yours.” Or, for evangelism, “Just tell them about the mark of the beast and they’ll be ready for baptism this Sabbath!” Humor aside, there is, of course, a proper time and place for prophecies, especially in the times we live in.

But insofar as redemption itself is concerned, it is my hope that the Adventist church of the future will have finally accepted the implications of a true Pauline New Covenant gospel (without throwing the baby out with the bathwater). That they will come to understand that the fruit of the Spirit is the real antitypical fulfillment of the law. And that righteousness is love. After all, Jesus made it painfully clear what it means to be His follower, His “remnant”: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another” (John 13:35 CSB).

–Shayne Mason Vincent is lead pastor, Casper Wyoming District. Email him at: [email protected]

28 Mar


By Geoff Patterson … Reading the Bible can sometimes be a startling experience for those with a strong sense of 21st Century morality. For example, Abraham’s nephew Lot finds two strangers in the town square and, as the morality of the day required, invited and urged them not to stay in the town square but instead to lodge with him and his family. Unfortunately, later that night the immoral men of the town came to Lot’s door and demanded he send out to them the men he was hosting that they might have sexual relations with them, a demand to which Lot replied: “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Behold, I have two daughters who have not known any man. Let me bring them out to you and do to them as you please. Only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.” (Genesis 19:7-8).

In the context of his time, Lot was acting “morally,” for it seems morality demanded that to take someone into your house was to commit yourself to their safety and well-being at all costs. Yet I think it clear enough to you and me that his offer wasn’t just immoral, it was appalling.

Abraham’s failings seem tame in comparison but was it really moral to allow Abimelech to believe Sarah was Abraham’s sister, thus putting his wife in danger of being sexually assaulted simply for the sake of his own safety (Genesis 20). In addition, according to later writings, Abraham was out of line for even marrying his half-sister in the first place (Leviticus 18:9). And was Jacob acting “morally” when he married two sisters, Leah and Rachel, and then, likely without consent, took their servant girls as concubines? Perhaps it was a result of these unfortunate decisions that the counsel we find in Leviticus 18:18 was written.

So, what do we do? Should we cancel Lot, and Abraham, and Jacob, given the obvious immorality they display? Or should we censor the book of Genesis because it lacks trigger warnings and fails to take a strong stand against such blatant immorality?

We do ourselves a disservice when we attempt to hold Old Testament characters to 21st Century morality. But we also do ourselves a disservice when we attempt to hold 21st Century citizens to what serves as Old Testament morality. And that, in a nutshell, is the problem: morality changes. Which leads me to suggest, if we would remain moral in our day, so must we.

Let me give an example from my own lifetime. I will be 57 this year, which makes me no longer young, but not exactly old either. Yet, in my lifetime, I have seen some very significant shifts in “morality”. For example, when I was a child, interracial marriage was considered by much of society and the church to be immoral. In fact, in many places, it was illegal (for example, see Loving v. Virginia, April 10, 1967, eight days after my second birthday). Yet today, anyone taking this position would be viewed as holding immoral views centered in racism, so much so that after George W. Bush visited Bob Jones University in the year 2000, he felt compelled to issue an apology for “failing to criticize the school’s anti-Catholic views and racial policies during his visit to the Greenville, S.C., campus.” (See: Los Angeles Times, March 4, 2000)

Bob Jones University would soon after drop its “no interracial dating” policy: what had once been established as morality was now being dropped as immoral. Yet in the Bible, such moratoriums were well supported. The Bible reports that Nehemiah, when he found that the some of the men had taken foreign wives, confronted them, cursed them, beat them, and pulled out their hair, among other things (Nehemiah 13).

And earlier, before Nehemiah’s time, Ezra had counseled that morality demanded the men of Israel “put away” all the foreign wives and their children, an act that we today would consider the height of immorality (Ezra 10).

Let me go on record with this: I do believe there is such a thing as Truth with a capital “T,” meaning an ultimate, unassailable reality known and established by God. I also believe there is ultimate Right (with a capital “R”) and Wrong (with a capital “W”). Plus, I believe that morality, in every age, is based on these immutable realities. But all too often, if the examples I’ve stated above are a fair indication, it seems morality as manifest in each age, is little more than Truth and Right and Wrong viewed through the lens of current culture.

The good news is that we aren’t expected by God to be “moral” Old Testament believers. And we aren’t expected by Him to be “moral” 1880s believers or 1950s believers. Yet we are expected to be “moral” 2022 believers.

But what does that mean? What is morality for our time? How many of the ancient and not-so-ancient morals have themselves become immoral? And how much of the “new morality” will one day cause horror to those who come after us? How should we, as 21st Century Seventh-day Adventist Christians, live? Is there just one morality for our time? Who gets to decide?

How much room for diversity of thought and even morality should there be within the church? Can the “Black Lives Matter” activist and the “Make America Great Again” proponent live alongside one another in Christian love and respect? Clearly, the “morality” driving both groups is not the same. Are the differences greater than the professions that might hold us together (righteousness by faith, the Creator God, the soon return of Jesus)? Can we live together in peace without a singular morality?

If our moralities are the result of Truth filtered through our culture and experience, does this explain, in large part, why we end up with such different morals? And are the capital “T” Truths big enough to hold us together? “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Does “Do unto others as you would have them do to you” still hold, regardless of BLM or MAGA status?

We all know we are supposed to be moral. The problem is, what does that mean right now?

Perhaps there is wisdom to help us in Ecclesiastes 3:

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die; … a time to kill, and a time to heal; …
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; …
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; …
a time to love, and a time to hate; …
a time for war, and a time for peace.

In this list of actions, we find dichotomous behaviors that might be considered moral or immoral, depending upon the situation. This suggests that when the morality we have chosen traps us on only one side of these dichotomies, we will likely fail to fulfill the duties of our day, and thus fail to be moral 21st Century Christians. There are times when war is moral, but also times when it is not. There are times when speaking up is moral, and times when it is not. There are times when killing is moral, and times when it is not. Are there also times when the drive behind BLM is right, and times when MAGA is the way?

Perfect adherence to any list of rules, no matter who made the list, will never be enough to guarantee we are living moral lives. Moral living takes continual effort of heart, mind, and spirit, and is only achieved through trial and error and a willingness to learn. As the author of Hebrews says: “… solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” (Hebrews 5:14)

There is no perfectly complete list of the moral rules for our day. There never has been a perfectly complete list, even in the days of Israel. Yet we know God calls us to live moral lives. If we would be the church God has appointed for this day, we must always be seeking, learning, and testing ourselves against the convictions of one another. It is the blessing of God, not the curse, that puts us in community with others who see a very different morality.

Let’s be mature believers, like the men of Issachar in the days of David, “… men who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do …”

(1 Chronicles 12:32). We are 2022 Seventh-day Adventist Christians. May God grant us the ability to know and do our moral duty.

–Geoff Patterson is senior pastor at Boulder Adventist Church, Boulder, Colorado. Email him at: [email protected]

28 Mar


By Nathan Brown … As school was opening for the new year in Australia, a Christian (not Adventist) school made national headlines after its new principal sent an ultimatum to parents. An email sent on the eve of the school’s re-opening, included a new enrollment contract that required parents to commit to their children respecting traditional sexual orientation and gender identities. In a heated political and cultural environment, the news about this school’s demands sparked media attention and debate. But talking with a parent from the school, I was struck by the reality that, while this ultimatum was perhaps intended as a shot in the ongoing “culture wars,” it was felt less as a matter of public debate or point-scoring than an action attacking existing members of the school community and destroying much of the school’s hard-earned community spirit.1

Or consider a different kind of example. A recent book I helped publish tells the story of a pastor—the author— who specifically invited six mothers of gay children he was aware of in his “normal” suburban Adventist congregation to meet at his home one Sabbath afternoon. Because not often talked about, most of these women were not aware that they shared experiences in common with others with whom they had attended church for many years. They arrived nervously, but the conversation soon flowed and new understandings and friendships were formed, with affirmation of their love for the respective children.2

More than a decade ago, I wrote a “controversial” editorial that asked questions about how we relate to LGBTQ people and dared to suggest that our first response ought to be modeled on the “scandalous inclusiveness” of Jesus.3 There was much response—a surprising amount of it positive. But one of the most treasured responses came some years later when, at a large church event, I fell into conversation with a retired church evangelist who thanked me for “that editorial.” He told me that the editorial had begun a personal journey for him that had a profound impact in his family over the ensuing years.

When one of his younger relatives had come out, this reputedly-conservative evangelist was the last in the extended family to be told because the family feared how he would react. Instead, he told me, he was able to respond with love—and a number of relationships in his family were strengthened, where they might otherwise have been seriously damaged.

I was struck by how these stories from different contexts demonstrate the introductory comments from a recent book pointing out that the primary challenge when it comes to how we respond to many social issues is not external pressures but internal realities: “We’ve done a disservice by painting sexual minorities as outsiders and painting this issue as originating in the outside world. LGBTQ people are already in our churches, silently observing, asking if they are wanted. We face the primary challenge of gay, bisexual, and transgender people growing up inside our churches and schools. The first challenge is about our own people.” 4

We can apply this recognition, by analogy, to many of the social and cultural issues that create controversy in our churches and communities. As much as we might assume about our neighbors, our family members, those we share a pew with, and those we work with, we are more diverse than we often assume. And we can do damage when we seek to impose our expectations of “normal” faith and action on others. While there are times when we should speak up, our railing against perceived outrages in the world around us are likely to be heard less “out there” than they are heard and felt much closer to home.

This article is not about the specific issues of sexual orientation and gender identities. I am not going to quote any of the Bible verses that are often cited—or employed as cudgels—in these cultural debates. Yet it is no less an article about theology—perhaps more so. It is about the theology of how we live together, love each other, listen to each other, and learn together. Something the Bible says so much more about.

These principles—and questions and challenges—also apply to our lives beyond the church and our witness in the wider world. Some years ago, the then Australian Attorney General made headlines and sparked public discussion when he made a speech to the national parliament in which he asserted that people should have the “right to be bigots.” He was speaking in the context of debating possible limits on freedom of speech, particularly in considering how that speech might hurt or harm others. It was awkward for some to have this question put so bluntly, even if in supporting that right. But there are certainly those among the Christian community who consider being considered a bigot a badge of honor.

Even as we might defend the principles of freedom, we must also recognize that the unbridled exercise of some of these freedoms are not without consequences. Whether in our churches, families, or communities, what we say matters and how we listen and respond matters. This is as true for our neighbor down the street or that mother sitting along the pew or the faceless person you are arguing with on social media. We might insist on our freedom to speak, but others will be equally free to dismiss us as jerks or bigots. Sometimes we and they might both be right—but by virtue of them being right, we are wrong.

When we resort to the language of rights and freedoms to defend what we might say or how we respond to people around us and among us, we have probably already lost the debate, even if only by turning it into a debate. We are called to live beyond the law, above insisting on our freedom of expression, laying down the verse-cudgels of the culture wars. Instead, we offer an alternative vision for life, for community, for well-being and seek to live it out in our churches and in the world around us: “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!” (Galatians 5:22, 23, NLT).

We might have the right to speak, freedom to insist on our view of the world and how we think it should be, but we have the greater responsibility to love, the calling to kindness and the practices of faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If we focus more on these, we will not only change our attitude to the world around us, but, it seems will also transform the environment of our churches. Them is us; they are we. That should require us to re-imagine and reformat our churches and communities, and rethink some of our assumptions, even some of how we have formed and expressed our theology in the past. But there’s no law against that.

–Nathan Brown is a writer and editor at Signs Publishing near Melbourne, Australia. His Christmas devotional book Advent: Hearing the Good News in the Story of Jesus’ Birth is great for seasonal reading and gifting. Email him at: [email protected]

1 Concerned Parents of Citipointe Christian College, “Why we, as Christian parents, cannot sign a school contract that condemns gay or transgender students,” The Sydney Morning Herald, February 2, 2022, www.smh.com.au/national/why-we-as-christian-parents-cannot-sign-a-school-contract-that-condemns-gay-or-transgender-students-20220202-p59t68.html

2 Bruce Manners, The Command: Learning to Love Like Jesus (Signs Publishing Company, 2021), pages 90–1..

3 Nathan Brown, “Beyond Assumptions,” Record, October 4, 2008, https://documents.adventistarchives.org/Periodicals/AAR/AAR20081004-V113-38.pdf

4 Alicia Johnston, The Bible & LGBTQ Adventists: A Theological Conversation About Same-sex Marriage, Gender, and Identity (Affirmative Collective, 2022), page 4.