24 Apr


Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack
A crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

– Anthem, Leonard Cohen


His demeanor displayed anger as he said, “Our young people are heavily influenced by today’s culture. All those TikToks and stuff. It takes them away from the church.”

As usual, when something goes wrong, it’s the messenger that gets a black eye.

There was a day when I was learning what it meant to be in the world. It was my own church where I was growing up that made sure I heard it loudly and clearly. Years later, I thought of it as an upside-down education. There was an extreme lesson in the way a church elder made sure that girls would not be allowed inside the sanctuary in miniskirts. He stood by the door on Sabbath morning with a ruler.

As I was on my way to study in England in 1966, my own father was worried that I might walk off the Adventist “straight and narrow” road. “You are inclined to imitate those beatniks,” he often said. He asked one of the church leaders living in England, Bert B. Beach, to look after me. Obviously, I needed a chaperone.

My dad told him that I tended “to enjoy too much of that pop music,” which was partially true, and my hair was longer than what Adventist youth ought to have. “You look like one of the Beatles,” he would tell me. A few years later, I was nearly sent home from university unless I got a haircut. It was regarded as a bad influence on other students in an Adventist school, so I was told. Much, much later, Bert jokingly remarked, “You enjoyed that music, didn’t you? Today, I must admit,” he said, “their music is closer to what I imagine we will hear in heaven.”

When talking about culture, through which all of us meander, whether it is art, music, literature, or fashion, my own experience with it was an expression of who I was. My own Bible study made me realize that my religion is not expressed by the volume of religious words I use. Such words and concepts come when they are needed. Christian presence and its media content makes a difference when motivated by the values of one’s faith.

If I were to evaluate the capital of my spiritual country, it would have to be Scripture. The location of my geographical bearing is centered in the Holy Word. And Scripture is at the foundation of the culture by which I am surrounded, that I know and respect.

There was a moment that made the Scripture meaningful for me, and meaningful in ways that charted each of my todays and tomorrows.

Once upon a time, in the 1970s, I was involved with the life and work of Poland’s premier artist, Czesław Niemen. He was a composer, a singer, a painter, a poet, and a friend. I helped him with his professional activities, traveled with him, even organized a tour or two, translating into English some of his lyrics. I will dare to say, what Bob Dylan is to America, Niemen was to Poland …

Niemen’s art was serious. His was a spiritual presence for the nation—a contemporary expression of who the Poles are, coupled with a call to continue to revise our lives. He sang: “Strange is this world, a world where a man hates his fellow man …” He called for a revival where values are reclaimed. Where we move toward each other and respond to our common needs. Niemen’s faith and his religious background made him a bridge builder between the world of needs and the world of God’s compassion.

Enter a day when I decided to share with him my personal worldview, a view described by singularity of purpose as defined by my Bible. Niemen was raised in a home and community where a priest read what he chose from the Scriptures. I introduced Niemen to my Bible. I said: “Czesław, read it for yourself.”

It was a few days after I gave him a brand-new translation of the Bible that I saw him again and he said: “Why did you hide this treasure from me for so long? Are you serious about what you stand for? Listen to this.” He opened the Book of Job, chapter 29. I’ve never forgotten to go back to that passage again and again. From that day in 1979, I was given my marching orders … Niemen impacted my life by pointing to an alignment of the internalization of practicing and sharing what God says in His Word.

“Good faith Christians are rounded in Scripture and practice the art of seeing people,” words that polish my Christian attitude and put me where I am.

Our culture always gets richer when we base it on God’s Word. It takes practice to make a difference. It requires creative relevance. Consider the attitude of Apostle Paul: Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized—whoever. I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. … I didn’t just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it! (I Cor 9:20-23 MSG).

Rajmund Dabrowski is editor of Mountain Views. Email him at: [email protected]

24 Apr


In my head, there is a difference between a “reason” and an “excuse.”

A reason is a good excuse. An excuse is not always a good reason.

I like reasons, but I don’t usually like excuses. Although, I will acknowledge respecting a well-crafted and clever excuse even if I don’t believe it to be a valid reason.

Also, a reason is something that prevented us from doing what we set out to do. An excuse is what we provided to get out of doing something we needed to do but didn’t want to do.

Or an excuse is what we told ourselves so that we could justify doing things a certain way even if there wasn’t a true reason to do so.

The dog ate my homework. I caught all the stoplights. The cops were really out in force today. I was hangry. This is a therapy animal, I swear. All common excuses for something we didn’t get right. Sometimes they are technically true, and sometimes they are complete fabrications.

Which brings me to the last difference between a reason and an excuse.

One is honest and true, and the other one is a lie by intent whether technically true or not.

Unfortunately, I have been guilty a time or two of leaning on excuses when I didn’t have a good reason.

And now that I have clarified for you how I see these two concepts in my own head, I want to use this as a segue to what this article is really about, which isn’t reason or excuses specifically.

When I was a kid in church, I remember sitting through the Mission Spotlight videos that they used to show a lot. I’m sure some churches still do. They were stories of missionaries going to some country and starting churches and baptizing people as converts from some version of tribal paganism. And I remember thinking, even back then, that there were always some similarities between all the recorded stories even though I didn’t really understand what it meant. As an adult, however, I see those stories very differently.

The missionaries would do their work and the video would show their success. And their success was all these former tribes sitting in rudimentary churches on rudimentary pews singing American church songs (sometimes even in English) wearing shirts, ties, and, sometimes, full-on suits and American style churchy cloths.

I’ve had this conversation several times with other pastors and chaplains, and we’ve all recognized some of the same things. What many of these missionaries were doing wasn’t simply teaching these people about Jesus, they were attempting to change their culture. We know this because there isn’t one good reason to make them dress like us when they weren’t already. And they didn’t need to learn English to sing songs about God. They didn’t need to adopt the American Adventist order of service to worship God, and they didn’t even need to do it in any overtly church oriented way.

These people had a culture. They didn’t need to look and act American to meet God. As a result of these practices, we have found that when some of these converts eventually come to America, they are disappointed that we aren’t all like what the missionaries said. Because, as it turns out, the missionaries weren’t all using accurate theology and, instead, were teaching them a version of Adventist cultural Christianity as opposed to introducing them to Jesus.

Ask any pastor how difficult navigating imported theology is within their church.

Now, I want to be very clear here. I’m not against missionaries. I’m not against cultures being altered to create better environments for people to be healthy and thrive.

But there is a difference between helping lift a people up and simply imposing our comfort level upon them.

And now, 630 words in, I get to the actual purpose of this article. What are we actually doing as Adventists to contribute positively to the world around us, including here in our own country?

To Adventism’s credit, we have a lot of hospitals here in America and have done health work around the world. We do have an education system that has done some good as well. I want to acknowledge these things. These efforts aren’t perfect, but no effort is.

But neither of those are large culture impacting phenomenon.

Adventists are known for a couple of things primarily by those who are not. Sabbath keeping and vegetarianism.

Adventists have been leaning into vegetarianism since the late 1800s. And yet we had almost nothing to do with huge rise in vegetarianism in America that has taken place over the last 25 years. That has been driven by other forces. Eastern spiritualities account for some of it, and a combination of better mainstream health research combined with companies willing to cash in on it by utilizing better science to create quality non-meat foods.

Other factors are in play as well including counterculture reactions against excessive lifestyles and the accumulation of material things. The need to live a simple, stress reduced, and healthy life. The roots of some of this can be traced back to the late 1960s and early 1970s in the peace and love era.

Where it doesn’t trace back to is Adventism. We’ve been making and selling vegetarian foods for well over 100 years that anyone can buy … as long as they weren’t looking in any mainstream grocery stores. In fact, you usually couldn’t find any of it outside of a conference office or local church, with some rare exceptions.

Adventism had a useful health message the whole time, and we did nothing but try to use it as a tool to get baptisms. Health became a spiritual test as opposed to simply trying to alter the culture of our world’s health.

This is simply an example of how Adventism has approached culture. We somehow took the idea of being “in the world, but not of the world,” a saying that does not actually exist in the Bible but is an interpretation of a broader point, and instead just said, “stay out of the world.”

We interpreted it in an ostrich head-in-sand sort of way. This mentality resulted in us using missions and evangelism to try to change culture into Adventist culture by pulling people out of their own culture.

When we try to impact culture what we are really doing is trying to make people like us and bring them to us so that we don’t have to change ourselves and go to them. And by “go to them” I don’t mean travel to their country. I mean live with them. Be a part of their lives. Lift them up to be the best they can be in their setting, instead of forcing them into our own setting.

This is why I don’t like the term “culture” as we use it. It’s a noun. It has a static definition. It’s about preserving what was. It’s an excuse for being a certain way and not moving forward to become more. It promotes stagnation and stagnation promotes death.

But culture is also a verb. In this usage it’s about creating an environment where growth can happen. It’s how live bacteria are created that we use to benefit digestion, for example. It’s a biochemical process.

Maybe instead of impacting culture or changing culture, both noun realities, we could instead culture our people and our towns and our cities and our churches and our communities. What if we fostered an environment where people could grow uninhibited and healthy without someone holding them back and tethering them to the past? Anchoring them to bad theology and isolated, controlled realities?

Until we change the Us vs Them mentality that drives us organizationally, we will never truly be relevant to the culture around us because we will never have anything meaningful to contribute to the growth of humanity. We will be too busy fortifying our walls.

But if we could change our corporate mindset, we might stop making excuses for not truly being a part of our communities and as a result might finally have a good reason for existing
as a group.

And I do like good reasons.

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

24 Apr


Recently, I was stretched. If you have ever been there, you know what I am talking about. I was in a situation where it felt like I was possibly (probably) in over my head. It was one of those moments when I felt like something had to give, someone needed to do something. I didn’t know exactly what to do or how to respond, but I felt compelled to do something. I realized that in the act of preparing to respond and then ultimately responding, even though it was not an easy situation to deal with, I grew.

But maybe that is the point of being stretched. When we are challenged to think outside of our wheelhouse and engage with a situation or a topic that we are not comfortable sorting through, we create a fertile place to cultivate new thoughts on the issue in a way that allows for the creation of new conversations.

I was stretched when asked to share my thoughts on the topic: “How is the church today impacting the culture?” In the interests of transparency, I need to say that my initial reaction was a negative thought. I said to myself, is the church impacting the culture? I think it would be a much easier article to write if the question was How is the culture impacting the church?, which is exactly what came out of my mouth to the person who asked me to write the article. It was my reaction to the request. But as I have considered the question, and pondered it for a few weeks now, I wanted to respond to this important question instead of reacting to it.

I find that many of us tend to react instead of responding. We hear a question and we already have an answer before we have really thought through all the ramifications of our answer. We react. A healthy response generally takes time and thoughtful consideration.

So, how is the church impacting the culture? For purposes of clarity, the “church” in this article is not viewed as some institution or organization. The church in the context of scripture and in this article is, at its core, a people who have a faith relationship with Jesus. Also, for clarity, I am only addressing specifically how Seventh-day Adventist people are impacting the culture.

As Seventh-day Adventists, per our statement of beliefs, we have a couple of definitions when it comes to describing the “church.” One of those is the Seventh-day Adventist Church organization, the other is much broader. Belief number 13 of the 28 fundamental beliefs begins with the opening sentence, “The universal church is composed of all who truly believe in Christ … .” So, we believe in a universal church, or group of people who have a faith relationship with Jesus, regardless of what denomination they claim as their faith identity. Since that group covers a wide array of beliefs and practices, I will limit my article to how Seventh-day Adventist believers are making an impact on the culture in which they live.1

From the inception of the Seventh-day Adventist church in 1863, and as we celebrate 160 years of organization on May 21, 2023, its people have been advocates for cultural change where it was needed. Ellen G. White, Joseph Bates, and many other of our pioneers were staunch abolitionists in an era where slavery was an accepted practice. It was not popular to speak against such a powerful cultural institution, yet they did so with bravery and wisdom. The temperance movement also helped shape our fledgling denomination as many church members were speaking out against vice and teaching their neighbors about the benefits of healthy lifestyle choices. They spoke to issues of violence as well.

Fast forward 160 years and some of those same issues that the church was combating then, we are still combating now. Instead of tobacco, which has mostly lost its attraction to the culture today, we now are dealing with a Fentanyl epidemic. Instead of open slavery, we have human trafficking. Statistics tell us that there are more people enslaved today, estimated at 40 million people, that at any other time in human history.2

So, how is the church responding to these crises? Regarding the drug crisis and addictive behavior, we could react by saying something mean-spirited about how people just need to make better life choices, which would not be helpful. Or we could get together and do something big. I am proud to share that, as a church, we responded to the challenge instead of reacting and have established a global network of support. Local worship centers can establish a recovery group in their area to offer personal support to help those in their sphere of influence find a path to wholeness.3

Regarding domestic and other forms of violence, our church is responding as well. The global initiative End it Now, extending to more than 200 countries, is our effort to raise awareness and advocate for the end of violence around the world.4

There are many other ways that the church is impacting the culture as well. Things like food banks, assisting people who are experiencing homelessness, chaplaincy care, health seminars, educational scholarships, and, of course, offering spiritual guidance in local worship communities.

But there is always a tension that exists that we tend to not talk about. How should we respond to some of the issues we face in the context of a soon-coming Jesus? If the world is soon to end, and we believe that it will only get worse before it gets better, then how involved should we get with these issues? Are these things merely distractions that pull our time, efforts, and resources away from our core mission? I believe those questions are worth considering.

A reaction statement may be that we should just focus on sharing the gospel. A thoughtful response may consider all these questions and ask another question. Could it be that finding a way to get more involved with the people impacted by these issues is what our mission truly is at its core, to love God and love people? I believe it is.

How will we respond to some of the many other cultural challenges moving forward is yet to be determined. I pray that we respond like we have historically, from a place of deep love and commitment to God and the Great Commission, and with an abiding and deep compassion for people who are struggling to sort through this thing we call life.

Brandon Westgate is the RMC youth director. Email him at: [email protected]

1  https://www.adventist.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/ADV-28Beliefs2020.pdf

2  https://50forfreedom.org/modern-slavery/

3  https://www.adventistrecoveryglobal.org/

4  https://www.enditnow.org/

24 Apr


On Monday, January 2, 2023, The Guardian Online published an Op/Ed piece entitled “Is America suffering a ‘social recession’?” by Anton Cebalo.1

He examined how recent polling and studies have shown declines in all social relationships, a rise in mental health issues, and that we are witnessing the first declines in U.S. life expectancy since 1915-18. Conversations I have had with friends also make me see that many people are experiencing exhaustion, alienation, and loneliness. To me, this now seems to be an endemic societal problem in 2023.

This story from The Guardian and my experience of friends and colleagues expressing their own difficulties leads me to believe our current world finds itself deeply troubled as we humans forget to pay attention to time, and our need for rest, renewal, and thankfulness.

In our Seventh-day Adventist heritage, we have the Sabbath. And it can be a powerful antidote to this sense of exhaustion and alienation.

I think, however, that in part, the Sabbath’s value in counteracting what ails our society depends on how we embrace the Sabbath and its message. I have found that when I properly value and embrace the Sabbath’s vision of remembering time, intentionally resting, and cultivating gratitude, the Sabbath helps me create the sort of balanced life that can be an answer to the exhaustion and alienation described in the Guardian’s story.

I invite you to meditate briefly on each of these three glimpses of Sabbath blessing.

Let’s start with the question of remembering time.

Swedish author Bodil Jönsson describes a developmentally disabled man she met.2

His mind had a very difficult time with abstract ideas, and, until he was 50, she inferred that he seemed to have lived in an eternally present and undifferentiated “now” with no future or past. Couldn’t really learn or interact with anyone. Then he received a digital assistant with small digital photographs that he could understand. He spent hours starring at them intensely and, suddenly, his world expanded. His vocabulary exploded, and his inaction with others suddenly expanded. For the first time, he had found a way to grasp time and its passage—and his mind suddenly stretched to include past, present, and future. The awareness of time and its passage revolutionized his life.

The first chapter of Genesis reflects our God-implanted need to understand and mark the passage of time. Genesis 1 unfolds as a stately, measured progression of time, carefully marked, and observed: And there was evening and there was morning, the first day (Genesis 1:5, NRSV). This stately progression culminates in God establishing the Sabbath. Indeed, we read in Genesis 2:2, And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done (NRSV).

Imagine a scene with me. It is the fall of 1991, and the sun is sinking in Lincoln, Nebraska. I am laying aside Prosser and Keeton on Torts, 5th Edition and leaving the University of Nebraska Law Library. I see classmates huddled in the glass study rooms—lots of shoulders tense from studying for our fast-approaching final. Some look up, puzzled. What am I doing leaving so close to the final?

It is Friday night, and I am off to Vespers at Union College. Friday night called me to pay attention to the sun sinking below the horizon. Suddenly, after a week in peril of sinking into an ageless morass of continual studying and reviewing, God rescued me by asking me to remember time. This is how Sabbath restored rest to a nervous, first-year law student.

Next, consider how Sabbath rescues us from multitasking. The prophet Amos has a spectacular ancient example of multitasking: In Amos 8:4-8, the wealthy are grumbling because they want the Sabbath to be over so they can get back to commerce. Amos asserts God does not approve of them spending their time during the Sabbath planning what they will do once the sun is down (which essentially boils down to dreaming up new ways to cheat the poor).

In Sabbath as Resistance3 by Walter Brueggemann provides what I regard as my favorite story in a chapter called “Resistance to Multitasking.” Every week, as Walter was growing up in rural Saline County, Missouri, the town’s grocer would ceremoniously get up and leave church while the pastor was still preaching, heedless of the disruption he and his wife caused as they walked down the long aisle and out of the church while the pastor was still speaking.

Why did they do this? Simple. The grocer didn’t want to miss out on the post-church commerce from the other church in town, which ended their worship one half hour before his own church ended worship. The grocer would rather miss the end of the sermon and disrupt his own church service than potentially miss out on the Missouri Synod Lutherans’ grocery business. His mind was clearly more on commerce than worshiping Jesus.

Brueggemann points out that the same issue Amos protested was still happening in his own childhood church. Even if no cheating was occurring, commerce was still replacing God. Priorities were skewed, and it was affecting the quality of their rest and worship.

For me, growing up, sometimes it seemed as if the more galling part of Sabbath was the general things I couldn’t do rather than the Sabbath-specific things I could do. Yet, now, and in retrospect, the things I truly celebrate and remember with fondness are those things that were unique to the Sabbath when we were treating it as Sabbath. Not only worship, but things like being with our dad enjoying nature (which in my family, we often called “God’s Second Book”) or driving to see the aspen turning gold in the fall, while spending time with our grandmother.

When our focus was on God, and on Sabbath-specific ways of experiencing God’s blessings, I had a much more memorable Sabbath rest than when I was chafing about whether or not I could go to the mall. God was rescuing me from multitasking and helping me avoid missing the point of the Sabbath.

I found a similar celebration of avoiding multitasking and focusing on the Sabbath-specific joys in Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s 1951 book, where he calls the Sabbath A Palace in Time.4 It is a palace because we leave behind the many work-a-day mundane distractions of the other six days, and instead, spend our time focusing specifically on what the Sabbath brings us. We avoid multitasking.

In thinking about how the Sabbath has brought me both closer to God and to my family, the final point is remembering how my parents used the coming of Sabbath to model joy and gratitude to their children. As I see it, it was in that joy and gratitude that we began to see the full value of the Sabbath.

Return with me to the early 1980s in Boulder, Colorado. Join me in imagining that it is Friday night at the Nowlan residence.

The sun has slipped behind the Flatirons. The TV has been turned off. More importantly, I can smell my mom’s special Friday night soup, and there are candles burning on the family table. My dad asks each of us, “What are you thankful for this week?”  We spend time enjoying the soup, listening to each other, and decompressing from a week of school and work. The candlelight shines in the windows around us. We pray. We look with deliberate gratitude at the week just past and turn with intentionality into the Sabbath time of rest.

When I think of the Sabbath in these terms—reminding me of how God’s time is unfolding, reminding me that we are leaving behind the week’s multitasking, and reminding me of God’s blessings over the past week—then Sabbath becomes something rich and meaningful. And this meaningful gift is something we can share with the anxious, alienated world. I wonder, could this be a partial answer to the issue on which the Guardian was reporting in January?

Shawn P. Nowlan is an attorney currently working for the federal government in Denver. He is a member of the Boulder Adventist Church. Email him at: [email protected]

Cebalo, A. (Accessed Feb. 17, 2023). “Is America Suffering a ‘Social Recession’?” The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2023/jan/02/america-social-recession-less-friends-sex-mental-health

Jönsson, B. (2001). Unwinding the Clock. Harcourt, Inc. p. 54-56.

Brueggemann, W. (2017). Sabbath as Resistance: New Edition with Study Guide. John Knox Press.

Heschel, A.J. (1951). The Sabbath. Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

24 Apr


For two significant reasons, I have been thinking and talking a lot about race and racism over the past few months. These are important issues and something we should be talking about in various contexts. But these discussions have also given me opportunities to observe how our church tends to respond to big issues in the society and culture around us.

The first context in which I have been talking about this topic has been the launch of a book exploring what in our Adventist beliefs, faith, and history can contribute to addressing race and racism.1 While talking about the book is part of promoting the book, raising awareness of it and hoping to sell a few copies, the book also acts as a prompt for talking about the topic. So, over the past few months, my co-editor and I, often with other contributors to the book, have used the book as a launching pad for important discussions on podcasts, online panel conversations, and in-person events. Some of these I have been part of, and some I have been able to watch from the other side of the world.

One thing that has taken us by surprise—and that we have commented upon among ourselves—is how often questions surrounding regional conferences have been brought into these discussions, particularly surprising given that the book spends little time on this thorny subject. Of course, in talking about difficult topics, we would do well to heed Jesus’ instruction: Why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? (Matthew 7:3, New Living Translation). In addressing the evils of racism there are plenty of logs for everyone—and we do need to be conscious of our own historical and organizational shortcomings and failures.

But I also wonder if this might be something of a diversionary tactic. We can note our awareness of the problem even in our own midst, recognizing that it is complex and perhaps not something we can easily resolve, but at the same time cutting the issue down to Adventist-size. In so doing, we might avoid confronting the enormity of racism in our cultures, but we also miss the opportunity for the best of our faith to speak to this kind of burning issue in the wider world.

In a book tracing how development work is different—or should be different—when undertaken by faith-based organizations, one of the key relationships to be negotiated is the relationship between the organization working for justice and opportunity, and its supporting church or churches: “There is a risk of partnering with the church when its strongly pietistic, priest-centric, and mystical beliefs give it a largely inward focus.” 2

Adventists tend to focus on personal piety. We might not call them priests, but we have spent quite a lot of our communal energy on arguing about ordination in recent decades. And we have a strong tendency to spiritualize much of our faith, even if we are wary of “mysticism.” And, despite our strong focus on mission, we tend to do this in a self-referential way—focused on what we want to tell people, rather than responding to the needs and culture around us.

So perhaps it is not surprising that we begin talking about the big challenges of racism in our world today and how Adventist insight and faithfulness might matter to those challenges—and then we are soon talking about anomalies of our organizational structures in some parts of the United States. As important and as difficult as this topic might be, given our temptations to inward focus, is it a way of avoiding more important, larger, and seemingly intransigent injustices in the world around us?

The second context in which I have been having these conversations over the past few months is that of the planned referendum for recognizing Australia’s First Peoples in our national constitution and including a mechanism for these Indigenous voices to be heard in our political structures. Amending a national constitution should be a difficult process but should also be a way of addressing deep historical injustices in our culture and society. With a national vote planned to take place later this year, I have been following the political debates, reading much in the history and background to this, listening to Indigenous colleagues and leaders, and talking with leaders of the Adventist Church in Australia about our church’s response to this issue.

Of course, there is a spectrum of views and opinions among Indigenous people and among non-Indigenous people. But as I have listened to Adventist leaders giving their own opinions and reflecting on some of the views expressed to them by church members, I think we have a profound barrier to engaging meaningfully with an issue like this in our society and culture.

The referendum question and proposed Indigenous Voice mechanism has come through a decades-long process seeking recognition and reconciliation that reached a high point in a constitutional convention of Indigenous peoples—hosted at Uluru, the big rock in central Australia, in 2017—which formulated and endorsed a statement known as the “Uluru Statement from the Heart.” It is a gracious and generous invitation to the Australian nation from its Indigenous peoples “to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.” 3

As I was re-reading this statement recently, it occurred to me that whatever our various political views about the history of colonization, displacement, and ongoing disparity and injustice affecting our Indigenous peoples, this final invitation might be the largest stumbling block for Adventist support. Put simply, because of our assumptions, we lack the theological and culture resources to imagine a better future. We call it hope, but we do not hold out hope for the culture around us. Instead, we expect that everything gets worse—and find some perverse vindication in observing this—until a few of us are rescued. Sometimes it seems we can barely bring ourselves to imagine a future, much less a better one—or we feel guilty about doing so.

By contrast, Paul concluded his most grand and eloquent defense of the resurrection of Jesus and the hope of our future resurrection and re-creation with a call to engage in the world here and now in the name of this resurrected Jesus: So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless (1 Corinthians 15:58).

Because we believe in the resurrected Jesus and His promises, we can imagine and work toward a better future. We expect our thinking to take us beyond ourselves and the issues within our church community, as important as they might be. And we turn back to the culture around us, with a renewed appreciation that working for justice, goodness, peace, and a better future now is working in harmony with God’s intentions and resurrecting power.

We resist the temptation to reduce the issues around us to a manageable, self-contained size, which we might then safely shelve. Instead, in the best of our understandings and practices of faith, we recognize that we have resources from which we can listen and speak, read and write, wrestle and respond, lament and hope amid the biggest and most challenging issues in our world, our societies, and our culture. And we expect to change them.

Nathan Brown is a writer and editor at Signs Publishing in Warburton, Victoria, Australia. Nathan recently launched Thinking Faith, a collection of his articles in Mountain Views over the past few years, as well as being co-editor of A House on Fire: How Adventist Faith Responds to Race and Racism. Email him at: [email protected]

Jackson, M. and Brown, N. (2022). A House on Fire: How  Adventist Faith Responds to Race and Racism. Signs Publishing.

Mitchell, B. (2017). Faith-Based Development: How Christian Organizations Can Make a Difference. Orbis Books. p. 116.


24 Apr


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.

24 Apr


The editor of this magazine sets the bar high for his writers. Every quarter, the dance he’s arranged comes dressed in its most beguiling colors. We writers have only to step onto the floor and take the hand of the lovely dance partner. The invitation is (almost) irresistible, but for me, to whom “graceful” is a distant adjective, this is a real challenge.

The topic, as I understood it, was how the Adventist church might engage the society and culture around it. And, thus, I tripped before even stepping foot on the dance floor.

It’s the “church” bit that throws me. A friend of mine, a former Union president and a keen analyst of the church’s political moves, has convinced me that the greatest contribution the Seventh-day Adventist Church has made to the world is its global network of hospitals. It is there, where people are the most vulnerable, that the institutional message of caring service shines the brightest.

No dispute there. I thought to add the educational system from kindergarten to advanced degrees, but that has an indirect effect on the world because it is, for the most part, a closed system built primarily for members. That’s not to say that Adventists don’t value education. Anecdotally, I’ve heard that Adventists have the highest proportion of college-educated members of any Christian denomination. We have “studied to show ourselves approved” by God and humans.

No, what doesn’t work is the notion that the official church body, the public-facing institution of Adventism, has a relative influence on the billions of people in the world. When the pope issues an encyclical or makes a comment about some current issue, it’s newsworthy. When the president of the Southern Baptist Convention speaks out against the ordination of women or the president of Liberty University hosts Donald Trump, it’s newsworthy.

When Adventists make the news it’s often for the wrong reasons: our links to the tragic debacle at Waco, Texas, or a local minister embezzling funds, or a teacher at an Adventist boarding school brought up on sexual assault charges. Granted, the “news” is often bent toward the salacious and the gratuitous, rather than the uplifting or even the commonplace, but my point is that pronouncements from official Adventism have little effect on the world.

I have noticed, over the years, that we Adventists seem to suffer from an inferiority complex. We admire celebrities, especially those who might have some link to Adventism. When I was in college at an agape feast or an informal Bible study, someone would comment that Billy Graham had read all of Ellen G. White’s books. “He’s just waiting for the right moment to come out,” they would assert confidently. The implication was that Graham’s public recognition of the Spirit of Prophecy and his subsequent joining the church would elevate Adventism and bring it into the mainstream of American religious life.

I had known that Little Richard attended Oakwood College during a period of his life when he had withdrawn from rock ‘n roll. Until his death in 2016, I did not know that Prince had been raised with Seventh-day Adventist roots. Adventist Today reported the connection in April 2016, and noted Prince was the kind of person who might embarrass the denomination but conjectured that his creative genius may have sprung in part from his Adventist faith and could have positively affected millions of young fans.

My reaction on reading this was probably typical. I was first surprised, then gratified (he was one of ours!), followed by relief that an Adventist publication thought it possible God could be at work in the life of a superstar rock musician. Then I was amused about my own reaction, sensing an electric thrill that someone famous was part of my religious tribe.

Where did that come from, I wondered. Did I really need that validation, such as it was, to be comfortable in my Adventist skin? Did it mean we Adventists weren’t as weird as we are sometimes portrayed? Or did the association, however tenuous, somehow make me cool?

It occurred to me that in living a life of meaning, subject to both reason and imagination, no question about our relation to others and to God is trivial. If I count myself as part of the Adventist Church, do I have an obligation to answer for how the official church body faces the world? Just as I, as a member of a society, cannot avoid my role in the polis and thus my attitude toward politics, do I have a responsibility toward my denomination to support its stance on public issues or to defend its avoidance of them?

The way in which I thought of these questions as a teenager in my newly awakened faith in Christ was different than how I think about them now, over fifty years later. In that first flush of excitement about my faith in the late 1960s and early 1970s, I saw the church as a slow beast which could be prodded into action, a stubborn donkey which might respond to either a carrot or a stick. I thought of myself as both: generally, a persuader holding a carrot, now and then a youthful agitator wielding the stick of righteous action. A favorite text in those days was from 2nd Timothy where the Living New Testament says, “Do not let anyone look down upon you because of your youth.”

What I could not admit in those days (and did not want to believe) was that the Church, like most institutions, was as much about self-preservation as it was about mission. Change would threaten both, but only the threat to mission would be acknowledged. Self-preservation was embedded so deeply in the structure of the church that it was part of the “peace that passeth understanding.”

Now I see those individuals in church administration, whom I regarded as obstinate donkeys as men (occasionally women) who had played the game long enough to become highly skilled at keeping their positions while in service to the ongoing mission of the church, which was to survive to the end.

I cannot unfairly judge them because, like them, I cannot see the big picture. More to the point, my voluntary association with the church calls me to be on the boundary between “the church and the world.” As an individual, I can engage with the world in ways that an institution cannot. And I would argue that the institution needs individuals who can give a reason for the hope that is within them.

In college, I held the view that the Adventist Church would play a critical role in last-day events, perhaps as the hinge of history, but surely as a doorway to salvation. I still believe in the doorway, but not the hinge of history. There are many ways Christ draws people to himself; the Church, no doubt, is one of them. But it is not the first way, nor will it be the last.

I no longer have an expectation that the Adventist Church will be publicly forthright on pressing political and social issues. It simply doesn’t have the moral authority or the deftness to navigate those troubled waters. But the many individuals guided by the Spirit within the church—that’s where spiritual life can be awakened in the lives of others. I find Jesus’s warning against an ostentatious witness to be compelling.

I was a teacher for many years, both within the church and in secular universities. It was a rewarding vocation, a privileged calling, in which I did what I loved every day and got paid for it.

Now I am retired and have returned to my first love—the arts, specifically, poetry. Now I have time to study it and the pleasure of reading and writing it. I am finding my voice, haltingly, as someone immersed in humanity made in the image of God, with all its blemishes and glories. The challenge of touching others through the poetry of faith is exhilarating.

Everyone reading this has something they do which they love. Anything that is good and true and beautiful can permeate one’s life in such a way as to create openings for the Spirit to live and move and have its being in us.

The metaphors of discipleship which Jesus gave us are many and varied. The ones most moving to me are salt, light, and a little yeast. They create an image of the fellowship of Jesus affecting the world quietly, pervasively, without fanfare, until the day that Christ becomes all in all.

Barry Casey has published in Adventist Society for the Arts, Brevity, Faculty Focus, Lighthouse Weekly, Mountain Views, Patheos, Spectrum Magazine, The Dewdrop, and The Purpled Nail. His collection of essays, Wandering, Not Lost: Essays on Faith, Doubt, and Mystery, was published by Wipf and Stock in November 2019. He writes from Burtonsville, Maryland. Email him at: [email protected]

24 Apr


I grew up in the Seventh-day Adventist faith tradition, and, as a young person attending Adventist churches and schools, I frequently heard that I was supposed to be “in the world but not of the world.” Don’t hang out with those people because you’ll become more like them. Don’t watch the wrong television shows or you’ll become less sensitive to the evil in the world. Don’t read the wrong books or you won’t want to read the right ones. Perhaps there was a degree of wisdom in this counsel, but I don’t recall hearing much about how to be “in the world.”  There was much more focus on how to stay separate from the world than how to impact it.

When we think about how Seventh-day Adventists influence the world around us, we tend to focus on famous Adventists. The famous singers, physicians, preachers, and authors. The famous hospitals and schools. These people and organizations have impacted the world in many positive ways, but what about ordinary Adventists leading ordinary lives? How can we be in the world and influence it positively for the kingdom? Albert Einstein said, “Setting an example is not the main means of influencing others; it is the only means.”

We can set a good example by focusing on the right things. I knew a woman who worked with several Adventists and had positive interactions and experiences with them, but she didn’t know much about Adventist beliefs. She knew what these people didn’t eat, what they didn’t wear, and when they went to church, but that was about it. One day she saw a preacher on television and called the phone number on the screen. They sent her a book. It eventually led to Bible studies with a local pastor and her decision to be baptized into the Adventist church.

Her friends celebrated with her and showed up at the service to support her. As she stepped into the water, the sweet preacher who helped lead her to choose a new life in Jesus leaned down and said, “Your toenails shouldn’t be painted red. God didn’t make them like that.” Thankfully, she had the wisdom and maturity to put his criticism in perspective and laugh it off, but not everyone could have done that.

This is a silly (but true) story. It happened a long time ago and likely wouldn’t happen today, but in many other ways, it’s still happening. While living in a world that desperately needs our Savior, we focus on the wrong things and set terrible examples of what freedom and joy in Christ look like. How can we positively impact the culture outside our faith community when we can’t focus on what really matters in our own spaces? While we sling arrows at each other on the inside, the culture around us considers us out of touch and even irrelevant.

There is disagreement within our faith community about what really matters, and this is perplexing for people who claim to be “People of the Book.” The Bible states repeatedly that God’s law is fulfilled when we love our neighbors as ourselves. When Jesus was asked to clarify who our neighbors are, He replied with a story about showing kindness and mercy. He didn’t reply with a list of qualities of worthy neighbors. If we had such a definitive list, we would no doubt study the lives of the people we don’t like and diagnose them as unworthy based upon their lacking enough of the stated qualities. Who are our neighbors? Everybody. All of them. Each other. No exceptions.

We would have an out-sized influence on the culture around us if we were known as people who love our God and love each other. Full stop. We try to make it so complicated, and it just isn’t. Neither is it easy.

Truly loving each other within the Adventist community would require an extraordinary level of humility. We’d have to admit that we’ve focused on the wrong things. We’d have to stop trying to control each other with our own preferences and let love guide our every action. If we demonstrated that love is our greatest commandment, we would celebrate and ordain women who are called by the Spirit to preach the gospel and minister in our communities. If love were our guide, we wouldn’t tolerate racism in any form and would use every position and platform to fight it. If love was our highest goal, the LGBTQ community would view our church as a refuge from hate, fear, and judgment. If we really learned to love, mental health challenges would no longer be judged as weakness and lack of faith.

Imagine what influence we would have on society if we could be known as people who love really, really well. We would be more inclusive, more accessible, more compelling, more relevant. Perhaps more people would want to belong to our communities, and sometimes it seems like that might actually be the problem. If we become more relevant, are we subject to being diluted? Will we become more “of the world” if we become more inclusive? Of course, this is ridiculous, yet we’ve all seen newcomers to our faith pressured to assimilate and become more like us and less like, well, them. If we just love them, are we somehow less like us? Have we influenced the culture around us, or has it now influenced us?

Loving all our neighbors is extraordinarily complicated when we’re faced with the prospect of loving people who behave horribly. I’m having a very difficult time contemplating how to love the man who recently killed a young mother and her child, dumping their bodies just down the road from our home. It’s almost inconceivable that God loves him as much as He loves me, and yet, He does. I’ve concluded that loving neighbors like this requires a love that is only possible when Jesus abides in us. When we commit to living lives that represent Jesus to the culture around us, He creates in us a love that makes no sense whatsoever. It’s impossible on our own.

Love is a simple concept, but it requires a miracle within each of us to do it well. We’re accustomed to picking and choosing where and how we love, but Jesus didn’t leave us that option.

Jesus told His disciples, So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples (John 13:34-35, New Living Translation).

Jesus made it very clear how we can impact the world and culture around us: Love each other.

Joyce Newmyer is a member of Crosswalk Portland in Portland, Oregon. She loves people and immensely dislikes snakes. She is the Chief People Officer and Oregon Network President for Adventist Health. Email her at: [email protected]

24 Apr


My church is infallible.

Well, at least it’s in-fall-able.

We have been promised that “the church may appear as about to fall, but it does not fall.” 1

But why even talk about failure, or falling? We are one of the fastest growing and most diverse religious denominations in the world. We have the largest Protestant educational system and the largest Protestant healthcare system in the world. Our members, at least in North America, live 10 years longer, on average, than the typical American. One of our members ran for U.S. president and served in a presidential cabinet position. A major Hollywood movie about another one of our members won numerous national and international film awards, including two Academy Awards. We Adventists are doing quite well, thank you.

And yet….

Many of the local churches with which I am acquainted seem to be living on life support, and “two radically different versions of Adventism are competing for the future” 2 of the church.

Perhaps it would be well for us to remember that “the promises and threatenings of God are alike conditional.” 3

I believe culture is basic to the conditions that are threatening our church.

Culture is a society’s way of life. It includes its art, its music, its theology, its manners, its food, its dress, its language, its entertainment, its customs, and its standards of morality. The scope of a culture may be worldwide, or may include an entire hemisphere, a geographical region, a single country, a business, a religious organization, a small group, or even a single family.

Cultures are also constantly at war, at least since the Middle Ages, when we have the deceptive sense that there was some level of cultural tranquility. Subsequently, however, there has been constant tension in almost every society between what we may call a conservative view, with those who wish for things to remain as they are, or to even retreat into the safe, warm bosom of the past, and what we may call a progressive outlook, made up of those who are consistently agitating for change. I believe these two divergent views clearly describe the two versions of Adventism that are currently competing for the future of our church.

The conservative cry is, “We have abandoned the faith of our forefathers! We must nail down and stand firm on the principles of truth!” The response of the progressives is, “We are still here. ‘Had the church of Christ done her appointed work as the Lord ordained, the whole world would before this have been warned, and the Lord Jesus would have come to our earth in power and great glory.’ 4 Change is necessary and we must constantly be alert to revealed present truth.”

To the progressive, “knowledge is elusive and mistakenness the inescapable human condition.” 5 To the hard-core conservative, “there is one clear truth in the world and many liars. The other side is not merely wrong, it is lying … The very best you can say about people who deny obvious truth is that they are … ‘willfully naïve.’ ” 6

Despite those who fight change, culture is constantly changing, and that change is bi-directional—smaller groups influence larger groups, and vice versa. While most religions attempt to change the culture around them, many groups are more worried about how the larger culture of “the world” will impact their members, especially their young people. This is especially true in small groups, but can also be true in larger ones, even entire countries. China, Nepal, Tibet, and Bhutan historically limited or excluded foreigners from entering their countries in attempts to preserve their religions and unique cultures. Conversely, many non-religious people now worry that the cultures of religious organizations in America are impacting them and their families in ways they feel are detrimental to their way of life.

The Seventh-day Adventist church is a worldwide organization, and the overall culture of the church varies from country to country. Although there are wide variations in what is considered necessary or allowable in each of the following categories, I believe there are six principal arenas of social life that are commonly found among cultural Adventists: an abiding interest in healthful living; an impetus for a witnessing ministry, including the healthcare ministry; a strong motivation for educational achievement; a traditional standard of morality; an awareness of last-day events; and a reverence for the seventh-day Sabbath.

In each of these areas, we have had significant impacts on the culture of the world. Vegetarianism and veganism are now viewed as integral parts of a healthy lifestyle. Our hospitals and health facilities for many years provided the best health care available in many countries. Governmental leaders and politicians around the world have been educated in our schools or raised in our churches. Our official stance on the inability for women to be ordained and the perception of a growing acceptance of Headship Theology in the church continues to impact our society. And the two doctrinal beliefs highlighted in our very name, the second coming of Christ and the value of a Sabbath-like rest, have moved from being obscure theological ideas to widely appreciated principles in many religious denominations.

It could be argued, however, that the greatest influence our church has had on the culture of the world has come from two unlikely sources—the music of Little Richard and the dietary innovations of John Harvey Kellogg. Richard Penniman, professionally known as Little Richard, strongly influenced popular music and laid the foundation for the rock and roll music that has inspired rock groups and young people around the world since the 1950s. John Harvey Kellogg’s inventions changed the world’s eating habits with his breakfast cereals and, at least in America, the vital ingredient in peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches.

Adventism, however, was not primarily founded to introduce the world to Long,Tall Sally, or to help the world enjoy peanut butter. Our ultimate mission should be like the mission of Jesus—to provide the world with a clear revelation of the character of God.

When the object of his mission was attained—the revelation of God to the world—the Son of God announced that his ork was accomplished, and that the character of the Father was made manifest to man.7

To help us with our mission, we were given some cultural aids: guidance on a healthy lifestyle, a health-care ministry, an educational ministry, a Sabbath-like rest, a prophetic voice, and a cosmic picture of God’s activities for the salvation of his creatures. This includes a somewhat nebulous timeline to help prepare the world for the “soon” Second Coming of Christ. These aids have, to a large degree, helped form our unique church culture.

We as a church have benefited from these cultural aids. We are a healthy church. We are a health-giving church. We are a well-educated church. We are a diverse church. We are a prophetic church. We are a growing church.

All these things are good, in and of themselves, but they are not, and never were meant to be, our ultimate mission. They were intended to be useful in helping us achieve our ultimate mission, but too often they have distracted us from that mission. We are famous for being the best or the largest in many arenas, but I have never yet had anyone tell me that our church has the best picture of the character of God that they have ever seen. No one has ever told me that they believe our church exhibits the greatest ability to love others unconditionally and disinterestedly that they have ever experienced.

Christ was clear about how the world would be able to recognize his followers. This is how all men will know that you are my disciples, because you have such love for one another (John 13:35, J.B. Phillips translation). Until it can honestly be said of us that we are a healthy church because we love, that we are a health-giving church because we love, that we are a well-educated church because we love, that we are a diverse church because we love, that we are a prophetic church because we love, and that we are a growing church because we love, the world has every right to look away from us because they do not recognize that we are followers of Christ.

And until we preach the gospel, the best of all good news, that the character of God the Father is just like Jesus showed it to be, we will continue to be just another cymbal in the cacophony of the world’s culture.

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

1  White, Ellen G.  Selected Messages, vol. 2, p. 380.

2  Johnsson, W. G. (2017). Where Are We Headed? Adventism after San Antonio. Oak and Acorn Publishing.

3  White, Ellen G. Selected Messages, vol. 1, p. 67.

4  White, Ellen G. The Desire of Ages, p. 633-634.

5  Rauch, J. (2013). Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought. The University of Chicago Press.

6  Ibid (p. 107).

7  White, Ellen G.  Signs of the Times, January 20, 1890.

24 Apr

Light To Suffering Humanity

Possibly one of the most profound ways that Adventism has influenced the wider culture has been through healthful living. From breakfast cereals, courtesy of the Kellogg brothers, to cutting edge surgeries such as when Leonard Bailey transplanted a baboon’s heart into a human infant known as “Baby Fae,” to proton treatments, Adventists are recognized for their innovations that have changed everyday lives, whether people realize it or not, in significant ways. Even more recently, National Geographic recognized those Adventists living in the Loma Linda area as one of the “blue zones” of longest living people groups on the planet.

While perusing the archives recently, I came across a series of letters from I. H. Evans, the first president of the North American Division (1913-1918) who, during his leadership, was responsible for several initiatives. One of the most significant was the need for a site for physicians and nurses connected to the College of Medical Evangelists at Loma Linda (today, Loma Linda University) for clinical training. But since the institution was in the rural San Bernardino area with not enough people to support such a facility (hard to imagine today!), it was decided that it was an imperative necessity that such a hospital be built in downtown Los Angeles.

In a newly discovered letter by G. I. Butler, former church president, he expressed his strong support for naming the institution after Ellen G. White, as the White Memorial Hospital (an Adventist healthcare facility that continues to exist in Los Angeles, California). He described it as the “crowning feature” of the Adventist medical training work that showed the rest of the world that Adventists care for and desire to uplift “suffering humanity.” He added: “Sister White has been the apostle of this health movement among our people and the world. Light from heaven came through her to our people on this stupendous subject.” He recounted what a blessing this health message has been in the development of the church as many other health institutions have been and continue to function around the globe.

So, what was the health message?

Adventist historians have, for many years, recognized that there were many health reformers in the nineteenth century. And so it is not surprising that a movement that was birthed in the crucible of reform would recognize how important it is to live a healthy and whole life. In fact, one of my favorite books is a book highlighting the supposed “good ‘ol days” that were indeed terrible! In addition to shortened lifespans, which was typically dependent on the region and decade, one could, if you were fortunate, live into your 30s or maybe your 40s. This is approximately half of what it is today. Dangerous drugs were regularly prescribed, and American physicians were generally perceived as some of the most backward in the world. Oliver Wendell Holmes once famously quipped: “I firmly believe that if the whole materia medica could be sunk to the bottom of the sea it would be all the better for mankind and all the worse for the fishes.”

Ellen G. White, in a series of visions, would come to increasingly recognize the significance of health reform. Her most far-reaching vision on the subject occurred at the home of Aaron and Lydia Hillard, Adventists living in Otsego, Michigan, when on Friday evening, June 5, 1863, Ellen G. White had a health reform vision. During those 45 minutes, as she later recounted, she discovered eight “true remedies” (as found in Ministry of Healing, pg. 127): pure air, sunlight, abstemiousness, rest, exercise, proper diet, use of water, and trust in divine power.

What is not as well known is that this prescriptive use of natural remedies was far from unique to Adventists. As already pointed out, there were many other health reformers of her day, but what did, in fact, make it unique was the spiritual and holistic emphasis. The notion that we are a whole person composed of body, mind, and spirit (or spiritual). This holistic emphasis was reflected in how Adventists understood the state of the dead (as a sleep until the resurrection) to other aspects of Adventism such as the unique nature of Adventist education (once again, most Adventist school logos and mottos will often reflect these three aspects of body, mind, and spirit). In other words, Adventist health reform was unique and significant because of this spiritual component and emphasized the composition of the whole person.

Every person has a sacred responsibility to observe health laws, or natural laws, just as they take seriously the law of God, such as the seventh-day Sabbath, and keep it out of love. This latter part was especially important because some people might view it as some sort of legalistic obligation, but as early Adventist health reformers (and especially Ellen G. White) emphasized, following these natural laws contributed to a happier and longer life. God knows what is best for us and wants us to be in relationship with Him to the best of our ability.

Gerald Wheeler has noted that these early understandings about what was right and wrong were “strongly conditioned by cultural, as well as time factors.” During this time “the white middle-class population felt threatened by their own declining birth rate and a rising tide of immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe. They saw political control slipping from their grasp. The authors of the popular health articles saw in the eight laws of health a means of keeping the women of the white middle class in good health so they could have more children. They believed that the future of the nation literally rested on the health and fertility of the Anglo-Saxon Protestant women.” 1 In other words, through the prophetic gift, Ellen G. White was able to select from culture what was valuable and timeless from that which was not helpful.

Ellen G. White also recognized that the health message had strategic value, not only for living a healthier life, but also for helping to improve the lives of others. “The medical missionary work is as the right arm to the third angel’s message which must be proclaimed … They awaken spiritual joy and melody in the hearts of those who have been free from suffering, and thanksgiving to God arises from the lips of many.” 2 Elsewhere she wrote: “The health reform, I was shown, is a part of the third angel’s message, and is just as closely connected with it as are the arm and hand with the human body. I saw that we as a people must make an advance move in this great work.” 3

Another Adventist pioneer, J. H. Waggoner, wrote in 1866 about how “we do not profess to be pioneers in the general principles of health reform.” Instead, “we do claim that by the method of God’s choice it has been more clearly and powerfully unfolded and is thereby producing an effect which we could not have looked for from any other means.” 4 In other words, through the prophetic gift, God was helping our spiritual forebears to realize that he truly does love and care for us. In fact, as a group recognized as a “blue zone” or some of the longest living people on earth, this knowledge is a blessing meant to be both experienced and shared with others. The true test of Adventist health reform is that it should make us live healthier and happier lives. It is therefore only fitting that in 1916, as Adventist church leaders wrestled with what to name the new hospital, that they named it after Ellen G. White herself.

The Adventist understanding of healthful living, along with many creative innovations in its wake, continues to undergird one of the largest medical systems in the world. And arguably, continues to be one of the most profound ways that Adventism has and continues to shape the culture around them.

Michael W. Campbell, PhD, is director of archives, statistics, and research for the North American Division of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. He has spent over a decade teaching in higher education in schools in Texas and the Philippines. Previously he pastored in Kansas and in the Rocky Mountain Conference. He is married to Heidi, a PhD candidate at Baylor University, and they have two teenage children, Emma, and David.

1  Wheeler, G. “The Historical Basis of Adventist Standards,” Ministry, Oct. 1989, pg. 10-11.

2  White, Ellen G.  Testimonies for the Church, vol. 6, p. 229.

3  White, Ellen G.   Counsels on Diets and Foods, p. 74.

4  Waggoner, J.H.  Review and Herald, August 7, 1866.