31 Jan


Let me share a dream from a long time ago. Memory takes me back. My head was bent over homework—third grade stuff or so. There I was thinking my serious, though childish, thoughts. Daydreaming a bit but it was all very serious. 

I imagined that my life would be very fast and filled with much fun. I would work, of course, but it would be the management-type stuff.

Plus, I would have a fast car. Red or black or yellow and so low, that even now I wonder how these cars manage the bumpy streets of your town.

And she by my side. I would marry her, and she would be the prettiest woman in town. Dressed in fashionable clothes. 

What else?

The house—yeah, the garden in front and back.

The church—yeah, no steeples, just an A-frame would be enough, with all sorts of good people in it.

The bank—no need to worry about it. 

Oh, yes. Those were the dreams. Full of hazy images with plenty of fashion, mystique, and soothing feelings. Later, I pondered why such a dream. I was just a kid.

Then, the soapy bubble of pretty and exciting future burst. As I later reflected, all went in different directions—some true, the rest going completely astray. Who could have anticipated it would turn out like that? After all, I had thought about probable outcomes.

Now, I am in our Colorado home. While looking through my cluttered drawer in my desk, a thought passes that, in all honesty, my place belongs just where the clutter is. Such clutter seems to be my addiction. And it dawns on me that the whole matter has little to do with nostalgia or sentiment. 

Today, my dreams connect me with reality, a reality dotted with experiences, happy moments, and occasional tears. My relationships, family ties, emotions, and desires show me that though much has changed, much more needs to change. And my understanding of what I believe and how my faith took me through life connected me far beyond my personal preference. Now, I have my thoughts and desires under the controlling power of Jesus. No change needed there.

Looking back, and pondering the present, my thoughts and life itself continue to change. My life was meant to be different from those childhood dreams. And when in church, I wish to be challenged to move always forward, but without ignoring the present concerns. Like a brief exchange I had with Michael one Sabbath years ago. I asked him, “Why have you stopped going to church with us?” His words were simple. “I would love to be treated as who I am. The Hope church has an ashtray at the entrance. There, we welcome everyone.”

As a Christian, I am fully awake and aware that though life has its turns, with Christ, I can navigate! And a healthy relationship with God means that I am focusing on him and others more than on me. For with Him, I realize that the world of childhood dreams gives in to the world of mature results. Often different, yet full of meaning.

No need to look for another leading option. No need to be stuck with only one version of religious/church life or the preferred doctrines. You know the truth. Jesus is at my life’s steering wheel!

Rajmund Dabrowski is the RMC communication director and editor of Mountain Views. Email him at: [email protected]

31 Jan


Religious idolatry for us Christians, at its core, is when we love our beliefs about God and people more than we ever actually love God and people. – Ben Cremer

Has this happened to you? You get blasted by someone from your “faith group” because the way you showed up (in person or on a social media post) didn’t meet their expectations of what a “good Christian” should be. It happened to me just this week. It could be about something you’re wearing, eating, or drinking, or about some “code language” you used … You’re attacked by someone who, as Ben Cremer notes, loves their beliefs more than they love you. You just encountered someone with a Religious Addiction! 

Like all addictions, Religious Addiction (RA) hurts both the addicted person and the people around them.

I have good news (and I have bad news) about Religious Addiction!

First the bad news:

  • RA is possible, it’s real, and it’s quite prevalent.
  • Like all addictions, RA distorts life and complicates relationships.
  • Like all addictions, RA can turn something good into a destructive process.
  • Addiction always links a legitimate problem to an illegitimate apparent solution.
  • Like all addictions, RA is built on an illusion, the illusion of control and certainty.

Now the good news:

  • Addiction always links a legitimate problem to an illegitimate apparent solution (yes, that’s both bad and good news!)
  • Like all addictions, RA points out our places of “arrested development.”
  • Giving appropriate attention to our arrested development helps us grow, heal and thrive, and brings unexpected joy.
  • Recovery is possible, desirable, and makes life better, for us and for those around us.
  • Recovery is both inside us and in healthy, vulnerable, and trusted relationships. 
  • Recovery involves love and overcomes fear.
  • Recovery helps us stop MISUSING a good thing, returning it to a state of mutual blessing for us and those around us.

Definition of Addiction: 

“Addiction is a treatable, chronic medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individual’s life experiences. People with addiction use substances or engage in behaviors that become compulsive and often continue despite harmful consequences.” (American Society of Addiction Medicine).

Let’s notice these keys:

  • There are “substance” addictions that involve both legal and illegal substances like drugs and alcohol; these are the kind of addictions we’re most familiar with, where someone can’t stop using something others can “take or leave” as they choose.

  • There are “behavior” addictions (“process addictions” is another term) where someone can’t stop doing a behavior that others can “take or leave” as they choose.

  • Both types of addiction involve chemistry, specifically our electro-chemical “brain circuits;” people experience both a “high” and an anesthetic effect related to the spiritual/emotional/existential pain in their life; the point of this pain is where the “arrested development” lies, usually grounded in fear and/or trauma.

  • The clear difference between addiction and non-addiction is NOT the use/non-use of a substance or behavior; it is the fact that the addicted person can’t stop in spite of the negative consequences of the substance or behavior. The non-addicted person can adjust their action according to the consequences.

As a healthcare chaplain specializing in Behavioral Health (addiction and psychiatric treatment) for 40+ years, I have come to understand that “the taproot of all addiction is control,” or more specifically fear and anxiety related to the sense of being “out of control,” feeling powerless and/or being extremely uncomfortable with “uncertainty.” I understand this personally as well as professionally. 

While I was in training, my Clinical Pastoral Education Supervisor wrote in one evaluation “Glenn lives and thinks and acts as if every little decision carries eternal consequences of ‘being or not-being,’ [you could read ‘heaven or hell’ or ‘salvation or damnation’ here] as if he has to be right or suffer the consequences.” That was really difficult for me to read! But it was also life-giving, because it pointed to a place of “arrested development” in my spiritual/emotional life: I had not learned to “love myself” and therefore could not “love my neighbor as myself” either; I had to disagree with others if I thought they were “wrong” about something! 

That painful discovery started a “new life” experience for me; I was “transplanted” from living “grounded in fear” to being “grounded in love” from the God “who first loved us.” The beauty of this is that it brought unexpected joy to my life, and even more, it brought joy to others around me as I began to channel love to them instead of dishing out judgment. Could this be what Jesus meant when he said “By this, all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another?”

Religious Addiction is a puzzling and elusive addiction. Religion is considered a “good thing,” about which there is commonly a “more is better” belief. No wonder people who feel powerless turn to religion for comfort rather than to self-love. Those most uncomfortable with “uncertainty” are most attracted to religions that create the illusion of “certainty” with encompassing belief systems, high parochial boundaries, specific behavioral “standards” or expectations, and definitive prophetic/apocalyptic visions of a certain future storyline.

I’ll conclude with wisdom I treasure from two psychiatrists and a psychologist who each came to study, appreciate, and teach healthy spirituality. 

“Life is difficult. This is a great truth … because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it … Life is a series of problems. Do we want to moan about them or solve them? Do we want to teach our children to solve them? What makes life difficult is that the process of confronting and solving problems is a painful one. Indeed, it is because of the pain that events or conflicts engender in us that we call them problems. Yet it is in this whole process of meeting and solving problems that life has its meaning. Problems call forth our courage and our wisdom. It is only because of problems that we grow mentally and spiritually.” Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled, p. 1.

I cannot prove to you that God exists, but my work has proved empirically that the pattern of God exists in every man and that this pattern in the individual has at its disposal the greatest transforming energies of which life is capable. Find this pattern in your own individual self and life is transformed. – Carl Jung

The most important ministries require suffering, because it is through suffering that we acquire the capacity to help others who suffer. – Leland Kaiser

Glenn Sackett is a Seventh-day Adventist ordained minister and Board Certified Chaplain. He lives in Denver, Colorado. Email him at: [email protected]

31 Jan


Content Warning: This article mentions substance use which may distress some individuals. 

If you look at the NAD Counselors Directory, there is only one Adventist Licensed Addictions Counselor in Colorado. 

That’s me. I’m that Addictions Counselor. And I dream of a church that talks about addiction differently. 

If you were also raised in the Adventist church, you likely learned about the dangers of drug and alcohol addiction through church ministries. Don’t get me wrong; I fully appreciate that I could define temperance by the time I was 12 and recite 1 Corinthians 6:19 in both English and Spanish. The Adventist Health Message was ingrained into my bones through Adventist education, Pathfinder clubs, Summer Camp Ministry, and more. And I was so ready for the day I would feel peer pressure to smoke a cigarette. I knew to say no, and when I was called uncool, it was cooler to say no to drugs.

Oh, and the stories of those who had said yes to that cigarette instead of no? I knew what had happened to them. Their lives were destroyed; they would soon leave the church, drop out of school, and maybe even end up in jail. Others got sick, had lungs that looked like black cottage cheese because of all those smoked cigarettes, and died young. And then there were the miracle stories of those who left the life of addiction, found Jesus, and shared a testimony of deliverance from sin and their victory over drugs. “Phew,” I would think. “I’m glad that’s not me because I always said no to drugs. 

And perhaps you think this way too. Phew, not me. Never me. So why does our church, which promotes abstinence, need to talk about addiction differently? Because when we limit the conversations about addiction to avoiding drugs or alcohol, we miss out on the more extensive discussion of developing a healthy relationship with our pleasure-seeking brain. Understanding addictive behaviors has less to do with successfully avoiding all the wrong things and more about reflecting on the things we don’t avoid—the behaviors we constantly seek and crave that we find rewarding, despite their consequences. None of us is exempt from this. 

Let’s say you think that chocolate ice cream is the most incredible dessert of all time. And you know it’s not healthy to eat in large portions, but you find yourself overeating even though you’re full, so you start misusing this tasty treat. Your brain begins to get used to the taste of chocolate ice cream, so every time you eat it, you feel like you need more chocolate to get the same level of satisfaction. So, you begin building tolerance. If too much time passes without eating chocolate ice cream, you begin to experience withdrawal by craving it and feeling restless. You go on that late-night chocolate ice cream run. And, when you finally have that scoop of ice cream again, you feel a sense of relief. You have developed a dependency on a pleasurable activity that can lead to negative consequences. 

Perhaps this is a silly example, but this pleasure cycle is how our brains function. When we like something, we repeat it. When we dislike it, we are unlikely to repeat it. We want to do things we enjoy, even if it’s not always the best for us. It becomes harder to stop if you get into a repetitive pattern of seeking these activities. Welcome to the life of having a brain. Sometimes, we do what we shouldn’t because it feels good and is hard to stop. And when we experiment with excessive misuse of psychoactive drugs, substances that alter our central nervous system, it disrupts the healthy functioning of our brain. This can lead to severe addiction. In short, a simplified definition of addiction is a “primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, and memory.” 1 And these scientific, evidence-based treatments are continuing to promote an integration of spiritual wellness and integrating faith-based practices to recovery.2 

These pleasure-seeking behaviors, whether misuse or dependency, can be more challenging to identify when unaware of the signs. So, give the following exercise a try. Read these questions and fill in the blank on something that gives you pleasure or purpose. This is a list of the negative consequences of a repetitive pattern of seeking out that activity. 

Am I spending a significant amount of time on it?

Has it led to persistent social or interpersonal problems?

Am I having trouble controlling or cutting it down?

Do I feel a strong desire or urge to continue it?

How important are the obligations I set aside to engage in it?

Have I given up any important social, occupational, or recreational activities to engage in it?

Do I need an increase in it to feel at peace or normal?

Has it led me to be in any risky situations?

Does it lead me to be in any harm?

Did any of this sound familiar? I am sure you have answered yes to one of these questions at some point in your life. You’re a human with a brain that seeks pleasure—and, of course, you have! If you have answered yes to more than one of these questions, consider the health of your relationship with that thing. Why are you engaging in constant repetition despite these negative consequences? What are you gaining or losing? 

The pleasure-seeking activity could be your relationship with food, social media, work, sex, or even ministry. Could you be misusing any of these activities? Could you depend on achieving specific outcomes to feed your self-interests? What is motivating you, and to what extent? It may not be that you’re getting high or drunk, but you could be wrapped up in your self-interests and feel trapped and unable to get out.

So, let’s consider religious beliefs and behaviors for a moment, such as Sabbath observance or adhering to our health message. Keeping these behaviors is what makes our church distinct and unique. Could it be that we are hyper-fixated on carrying out these behaviors despite negative consequences? That we are misusing, dependent, or even addicted to them?

A recent global study on the Adventist Church showed that 47% of our world church thought that if they kept the Adventist health message, it would ensure salvation.3 Almost half of our church!

If our religious motivations lead us to confuse our salvation through Christ alone, is the persistence in keeping a set of behaviors or beliefs worth it? Could it lead us to the most negative consequences, which is losing out on the heart of the gospel message?

Certainly, a severe addiction to a drug requires extensive treatment. But for the sober Adventist, I urge you to consider the activities you choose to engage in that don’t lead to the best outcomes. If you’re reading this and wondering how to overcome religious addictive behaviors, here are some practical steps toward change. First, admit to yourself the unhealthy pattern you’re in and the motivations behind that behavior. The second, which can be the hardest step, is to tell someone. Choose someone you can trust and pray about it. Avoid sulking in silent shame or guilt because I can assure you that you are not alone. And finally, take steps towards gaining a deeper understanding of Scripture and spend time listening to God’s voice. With God’s grace, it’s never too late to change. 

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a National Helpline that is 24/7, free and confidential for those seeking treatment. Call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) for more information. If you are experiencing a mental health crisis, call or text 988, the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. 

Medical Disclaimer: This article is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Vanessa Alarcón, MSW is a Licensed Addictions Counselor and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the Denver metro area. Email her at: [email protected] 

1 Bill Cote and Mita M. Johnson. Basics of Addiction Counseling: Desk Reference. (NAADAC, 2017, pg. 18).

2 Amanda Navarro, et al. Recommendations for Future Efforts in Community Health Promotion. Centers for Disease Control, 2006.

3 Duane C. Mcbride, et al. Health Beliefs, Behavior, Spiritual Growth, and Salvation in a Global Population of Seventh‐day Adventists. Review of Religious Research, 2021.

31 Jan


Not for us the silver needle through which flows euphoric highs … and death. Not for us the innocent-looking pill which tempts overdose. Not for us the bubbly drink delivering magic mood alteration. No, we have a unique belief system that works for us. 

Seventh-day Adventists are not immune from addictions or obsessions. In particular, we may be susceptible to addiction to our belief system.

Religious addiction is a phenomenon that has recognition among therapists and researchers as a real emotional and mental dysfunction.

We are perhaps most familiar with addiction to substances. But there is growing acceptance of the concept of behavioral or process addictions. This form of addiction shares characteristics with substance addiction. Anticipation. Cravings. Mood ups and downs. Dependency. Withdrawal. Skewed attention.

This is because behavioral or process addictions and substance addictions overlap in a key way. Both activate the brain’s reward network. They deliver payoffs that addicts seek. It could be a high. It could be relief from pain. It could be euphoria. It could be release from guilt. All of those are rewards for behaviors that can become addictive. 

“This process is mood altering due to participating or not participating in religious experiences, associating only with like-minded persons and withdrawing from others, and attending church with like-minded persons.” 1

At this point, we must be careful. Religious activity often delivers rewards to the brain in legitimate ways. But there is a point at which seeking the reward out of a need for another “hit” can become a mood-altering necessity. 

The proposition of this article is that Adventists sometimes display characteristics of being addicted to the belief system, the doctrines, and prophetic interpretations. Some have a tendency to idolize our beliefs. We tend to focus on our beliefs more than we do basic Christian realities. I am personally doubtful that a single soul will be saved through doctrinal and prophetic correctness. And yet …

For example, we might experience a sense of safety, specialness, and harmony with God because we know the right day to worship. We might feel we have inside information about the future because we know how last day events will unfold. We might find comfort because we know better than the other 2.5 billion Christians what death is really like. We might find euphoria because we think we understand the codes of Daniel and Revelation.

On the downside, we may experience anxiety and/or fear because we feel compelled to monitor the activities of the papacy or watch the economy with an eye to looming end times or seek to discern signs of the last days in international relations. We are given to making prognostications about end-time events based on reading signs and omens even though neither we nor Ellen G. White have ever been good at predictive fervor.

Adventism began with a particular set of prophetic interpretations and doctrinal beliefs that set it apart from other Christian brands. Part of the culture became a continuous emphasis on the Adventist belief system. When you are a minor sect, you have to keep reinforcing your uniquenesses. 

So, this focus on truth has come down to us through 180 years of reinforcement. We see it in Revelation seminar after Revelation seminar. Daniel seminars. Prophetic reviews. Ongoing focus on, and speculation about, signs and times. Getting ready. Perpetual focus on end-time schedules and events. 2,300 days. 1,260 days. 1844. 1798. Three angels. Last generation theology. 

And more. 

It seems to this writer that there is a tendency to focus on these things to the exclusion of other matters more crucial to Christian life. We tend to overlook core Christianity while obsessing about our doctrine, prophecy, the future, and Ellen G. White. 

In short, focus on the apocalyptic and eschatological can, and in many cases does, distract us from the reality that the kingdom of heaven is among us now. We are encouraged by Elizabeth Esther to “offer the gift of our presence in the present, allowing God to take care of our afterlife.” 2 Instead, we tend to have our eyes on future events. 

When was the last time your church had a 1 Corinthians 13 seminar? Can you recall a seminar on the sheep and goats of Matthew 25? 

Have you ever attended a series to discuss Jesus’ statement regarding the great two commandments (love God and your neighbor)? Even though Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13 that being a loving Christian is more important than just about anything, we are addicted to studying prophecy, times, signs, end-time events, and Ellen G. White. 

“If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:2 [ESV]).

A brief story illustrates the dilemma. Loren Seibold, editor of Adventist Today, tells a story. He went to pastor a new church, committed to preaching only about Jesus and the gospel. He was soon approached by a church member.

Church member: “What we’re really missing is the meat.”

“I preach the gospel every sermon.” 

“No, we mean the prophetic meat. The signs of the end, the persecution, the Catholics, the Great Controversy, the things we have to do that set us apart like eating right and dressing right and keeping the Sabbath. You don’t mention those things.”

“I thought Jesus was the meat of the message.” 

“All churches preach Jesus. The meat for us is all these other things.”

A real risk of obsession with our belief system is that we will be deluded to believe our standing with God has to do with beliefs. Our standing with God has to do with His gift, not doctrine or prophecy. Let us focus on the gift!

There is another problematic aspect of addiction to our belief system: the need for certainty. We may feel safe only if there is certainty about the correctness of the truth we hold to. 

“…  The development of extreme religious beliefs, like extreme political ideologies, occurs out of a need to simplify and find black-and-white answers … straightforward answers where ambiguity generally exists … a conviction that one’s views are correct … and that other views are wrong. The belief that one is right allows a person to think in a reductionist manner and undermines one’s ability to critically assess different points of view. Extreme ideological belief systems are based on the view that one’s beliefs are universal and right while opposing views are wrong.” 3 

Our belief system is, for the most part, not the problem. It is our obsession and preoccupation with our beliefs to the exclusion of weightier matters that is the problem.  Jesus pointed out the risks of lopsided religious focus.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.” 4 

Commenting on the issue at hand, Renee Notkin, said “Our witness is not right doctrine; it is our relational orientation … As friends of Jesus, we love one another—and that includes people different from us. In fact, no one can be an ‘other,’ because in Christ we belong to one another … Instead of being people who stink with judgment and criticism, we are to be an aroma of blessing, hope, joy, peace, and love.” 5

The first step to conquering an addiction is to admit it exists. It is a tough first step, but necessary. Perhaps we should contemplate our spiritual priorities. 

Edward Reifsnyder is a healthcare consultant, president of The Reifsnyder Group, and senior vice-president of FaithSearch Partners. He and his wife Janelle live in Fort Collins, Colorado, and have two daughters. Email him at: [email protected]  

1 Thomas Roberts. Religious Addiction: A Disease or a Misnomer? https://www.Abstract elephant.com  

2 Elizabeth Esther, Spiritual Sobriety, p. 15.

3 Thomas Roberts. Religious Addiction: A Disease or a Misnomer? https://www.Abstract elephant.com

4 Matthew 23:23 NRSV.

5 Renee Notkin, Co-Pastor, Union Church, Seattle. Quoted in New York Times Opinion essay, Why Jesus Loved Friendship by Peter Wehner, December 23, 2022.

31 Jan


Can you “have too much religion”? Depends on what you mean by religion, of course, but from one perspective, the answer is surely, “Yes!”

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines addiction as “a compulsive, chronic, physiological or psychological need for a habit-forming substance, behavior, or activity having harmful physical, psychological, or social effects.” Could this apply to the way we approach religion too?

Say what you like about the Pharisees, but at least they were totally committed to their religion. All too often we paint a caricature of these God-fearing believers, labeling them as just bunch of legalists, hypocritical, and self-righteous.

But let’s look a little deeper. Their name comes from the Aramaic word for “separated,” since they wanted to live different lives from others, more committed to the truths of Scripture. They were a lay-led movement who wanted to help others take their faith more seriously. This led them into the role as the main religious teachers in the country.

After the disaster of the Exile to Babylon, those who returned to Judea determined to follow God better, and not to make the same mistakes that had led them into captivity in the first place. The Pharisees were an extension of this perspective, wanting to do all that God had said in the most detailed manners.

In many ways then we can identify with the Pharisees. They were doing what they thought was right. And there’s the problem, right there. The concentrating on doing. Jesus’ criticism of the Pharisees was that they only did what they understood God wanted and thought that it didn’t matter who they were. In the words of Francis Chan, “If God cared only about religious activities, then the Pharisees would have been heroes of the faith.” They concentrated so much on religious actions that they didn’t even consider inner principles and motivations.

They took this to such extremes that they could readily be classified as being addicted to religion. What they thought they needed to do for their faith influenced every aspect of their lives. From the moment they woke up to the time they fell asleep, their primary concern was making sure they kept all the religious rules. Their self-worth depended on such religious affirmation just as much as a drug addict depends on their latest “fix.” To help with this, they looked for the approval of others by being called “Rabbi” in the marketplace, praying on street corners, or looking miserable when they were fasting.

Let’s ask a few questions. Was it compulsive? Yes. Was it chronic behavior? Yes. Was it habit-forming? Yes. Did it have “harmful physical, psychological, or social effects”? Yes. So, by definition they were addicts, addicted to religion.

Now comes some questions: How do you deal with such people and such behavior? What do we learn from the way that Jesus treated them, remembering that “sometimes we emulate the Pharisees more than we imitate Christ.” (R. C. Sproul). How does Jesus speak to us if we exhibit such thinking?

Interestingly, he identifies with them, at least in their role of teaching God’s truth! He tells both the crowds and his disciples, “The teachers of the Law and the Pharisees are the authorized interpreters of Moses’ Law. So, you must obey and follow everything they tell you to do …” (Matthew 23:2, 3 GNT).

But then he gets to the heart of the matter when he continues, “Do not, however, imitate their actions, because they don’t practice what they preach.” (Matthew 23:3 GNT). Here’s the problem with such a religious addiction. You are so caught up with all the doing that you don’t really do things with meaning and proper perspective. You just go through the motions. Nor do you stop to consider the fundamental question of why you’re doing what you do. You have the requirements, so you just follow them. In this, they were just like the people God addressed through Isaiah (1:11, 13 NLT): “‘What makes you think I want all your sacrifices?’ says the LORD. ‘I am sick of your burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fattened cattle. I get no pleasure from the blood of bulls and lambs and goats … . Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts; the incense of your offerings disgusts me! As for your celebrations of the new moon and the Sabbath and your special days for fasting—they are all sinful and false. I want no more of your pious meetings.’”

This from the God who spent so much time describing in detail the sacrificial system! Yet if you’re a religious addict, you think that’s what is required so you concentrate on just doing that. So how did Jesus deal with these people who are too often so much like you and me?

The first point to make surely is that even though he had some tough words for them at times, Jesus wanted them to respond to his offer of love and salvation. He told them “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Of course, the Pharisees saw themselves as righteous and healthy when they were not. His call, repeating Hosea 6:6, was a reminder that God wanted care for others, justice for the marginalized, and heartfelt love for those in need so much more than he wanted religious observance in the form of sacrifices. But if you are sure that you are on God’s side doing what he wants, why do you need to worry about that?

So that’s one example. Jesus is trying to get them to think. In the over eighty instances in the gospels of Jesus’ interacting with the Pharisees, that is primarily what he is attempting—to break through the outward shell of religious duty to get to the inner person and develop a relationship with them. Generally, he failed because they were so sure they were right. They were so addicted and had invested so much in their “system” that to admit they were wrong was to them an impossibility. Yet there were a few who responded, such as Nicodemus, who is identified as a Pharisee.

In Matthew 23, Jesus pronounced seven woes on the Pharisees, calling them hypocrites, blind guides, and even snakes! He catalogues their errors and speaks truth to power. This shows that, at times, direct interventions are necessary in dealing with addicts, especially religious addicts. But even here it is done in love, for Jesus weeps over them and all the people of Jerusalem who would not come to him (Matthew 23:37, 38).

These hyper-religious people cannot even see anything wrong in plotting murder after Jesus heals a man with crippled hand in synagogue on Sabbath (see Matthew 12:14). They are so furious about him “breaking” the Sabbath by healing, they don’t see that they are breaking the commandment by trying to kill him.

So, let’s bring it home and ask ourselves some pointed questions. In what ways may we Adventists be guilty of believing some alternative to the true good news of God? Getting obsessed over the furniture in the Sanctuary? Identifying the toes in the image of Daniel 2? Preaching salvation through vegetarianism? Being preoccupied with the King of the North? Being addicted to apocalypticism? Arguing over the 28 Fundamentals? Taking up the cudgels to beat one another over the role of women? Making tithe-paying the passport to the kingdom?

We all have our hobby-horses when it comes to the kind of Adventists we are. The problem for the Pharisees was not just their rule-keeping but they were so totally confident in their system. In the end they crucified the Lord of the Sabbath and then went home to keep the Sabbath. Jesus says to all of us, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20 NIV). 

It’s a whole different kind of righteousness Jesus is talking about—it’s not about being so sure you’re right. It is righteousness that breaks the chains of pharisaical addiction to religion as a system and legalistic obedience to become more of a loving person who is focused on others more than focused on self and the rules that could easily cause the death of a Savior on Friday so that they could observe the celebration of Sabbath. 

The questions remain: how can the pharisaical addiction to religion blind us to pursue God’s desire for us to be God’s hands and feet and heart in the broken world today? Do we contribute to brokenness by being stiff religious addicts or do we work on healing the world in the spiritual and physical realm by loving our God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and loving our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39)?

Zdravko (Zack) Plantak, PhD, is a professor of religion and ethics at the School of Religion at Loma Linda University. Email him at: [email protected]

31 Jan


The Question 

“If you take an alcoholic family, and an ultra-conservative family, and you remove the concept of religion and alcohol, and you compare apples to apples in the rules and roles of the home, are they mirror images of each other?”

It was a question that arose from having lived in both. I knew firsthand what the “fruit of the tree” tasted like—my childhood was filled with it. Addictions, yelling, abuse, shame, silence, denial, neglect. So, when I came into the church, I was filled with hope! Finally, I had found family. Where acceptance flourished. Where forgiving love was the norm. And people cared about one another … kind of.

Certainly, there were individuals who were warm and loving. But, unfortunately, the same relational issues I grew up with were also present: addictions, yelling, abuse, shame, silence, denial, and neglect. Now I am not referring to outliers. To deviations of a small group here and there. I’m describing the bell-curve. Sadly, warm and loving seems to be in the fringes among communities that are hardcore fundamentalists. 

This is not to say that holding strict biblical beliefs is the source of dysfunction. But what I am saying, is that “… sin crouches at your door; its desire is for you, to over-power you …” (Genesis 4:7 [AMP]). Sin is universal. Everyone is subject to its power. Religious or not, if your relationships are based upon its principles, the outcomes will be the same. 

The Source 

To the point, when sin first entered our world, what was the immediate effect of it? It wasn’t drinking, or fornicating. It wasn’t the mark of the beast. What sin damaged was our relationships. Love became based in fear and shame, rather than acceptance and joy.

Just like the emotionally-stunted children we are, humanity immediately began pointing at others rather than being accountable for their own decisions. As it says in Genesis 3:12 (AMP) “And the man said, ‘The woman whom You gave to be with me—she gave me [fruit] from the tree, and I ate it.’ ” And so, death entered … and to this very day, slowly asphyxiates our relationships until they die from conflict and dysfunction.

You can see it in the sibling rivalry and approval seeking of Cain. It was in the triangulated mess between Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar. You see manipulation in all of Jacob’s descendants. And enabling was the cause of out-of-control children with Aaron, Eli, and David. Even the disciples were constantly in conflict, obsessed with control.  

Since the fall, human beings basically became one gigantic dysfunctional family, which by definition is: “a family in which conflict, poor-boundaries, denial, extremes, neglect, and abuse take place.” And so, while we would love to believe that Christians are above sin and dysfunction, unfortunately, according to the Bible itself, God’s people are often leading the charge.

The Lies

You see, the church is really good at teaching people about what happens when you die, salvation in Jesus, repentance from sin, and the like. All of which are super important truths. But we rarely, if ever, address the family rules and roles they believe, such as: How do you handle conflict? How do you process difficult emotions? How do you deal with stress and failure? How do you set boundaries and avoid extremes? 

As a consequence, when people are baptized, they may have repented of their outward-behaviors, but their inner-beliefs about relationships are still fully intact. And when we peek behind the wizard’s gigantic green curtain, be the extremes of liberal or conservative, the principles they do relationships by are essentially the same. They are both following a sort of “10-Commandments” for Dysfunctional Families:

  1. Control: It’s not okay to make mistakes; be perfect.

  2. Approval: Be who I say you are; I have no interest in who you actually are.

  3. Authoritarian: Do as I say, not as I do, and don’t question me or you’ll risk rejection.

  4. Secrets: Make us look good, regardless of what’s really happening.

  5. Triangulation: Keep it in the closet, never share family secrets or you’ll be ostracized.

  6. Neglect: It’s not okay to have emotions; don’t share or talk about them.

  7. Abuse: Having needs and boundaries is selfish; it’s not about you, but about me.

  8. Denial: Little to no communication, thinking it is only black and white extremes.

  9. Avoidance: Not talking about things will make them go away.

  10. Escalation: Accountability is shut down through conflict or redirection. 

These beliefs not only inform their subsequent theology, but they are the very opposite of righteousness, as it says in Romans 12:9-10 (AMP) “Love is (supposed) to be sincere and active, the real thing—without guile and hypocrisy … Be devoted to one another with authentic love as members of one family … .”

Is God controlling, screaming at you when you violate His rules? Is shame for your existence or your needs a fruit of the Spirit? Does Jesus avoid the truth through redirection and avoidance? Does the Father demean you every time you make a mistake and withhold His love from you until you do everything right? It’s obvious, isn’t it?! All these traits are the character of Lucifer. Not of God.

The Truth 

Thankfully, God is nothing like humans. His way of doing family is often the exact opposite of what we see in His own people. And He has his own “10-commandments,” 

as it were, for Functional Family:

  1. Trusting (Psalms 37:23-24; Proverbs 24:16)
    It’s normal to make mistakes, it’s how we learn, forgive, move on. Let God be God.

  2. Approval (Jer 32:3; Jer 1:5; Jer 29:11)
    Your identity is given by God. Find a solid mentor. God created you specifically.

  3. Boundaries (Gal 6:5; Prov 25:17; Matt 5:37)
    True authority is protective; it knows its limitations, God is jealous for your good.

  4. Honesty (Prov 12:22; Prov 11:1; Ex 20:16)
    We are all on a journey; we are all struggling; we are grateful for God’s mercy.

  5. Vulnerable (James 5:16; Psalm 22:1-2)
    Be real. Learn from one another and grow together. God loves an honest heart.

  6. Engaged (Gal 6:2; 1 Pet 3:8; 1 John 3:17)
    Difficult emotions take maturity and time to master, I’m here for you; God is here for you.

  7. Respect (Ecc 4:12; 1 Thess 5:14; Tit 2:3-5)
    Take care of yourself and others; know how much is enough. God knows and sees your needs.

  8. Communicative (Col 3:9; Prov 25:11; Prov 12:18)
    Talk about the issues; let go when they’re resolved. God has a thousand ways.

  9. Accountable (Gal 6:1-5; Prov 27:17; Luke 17:3)
    Facing things is hard, but facing things is what brings healing. God loves to heal.

  10. Humble (Prov 22:4; Col 3:12; Eph:4:2; James 4:6)

We listen to what the other person is telling us and process it openly. God loves the humble.

As it says in 1 Kings 19:12 (AMP) “After the earthquake, there was a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire, there was the sound of a gentle voice.” Unlike the chaotic mess we call humanity, God is gentle, stable, and kind.  

The Hope 

Call me naïve all you want. But I believe that we are able to repent of our wackadoodle beliefs. We can learn how to love. Through the Holy Spirit, we are capable of becoming islands of warmth and loving support for those drowning in the vast oceans of sin.

Because in God’s family, there is no need for eggshells. Instead, we can talk openly, apologize for our mistakes, forgive, and move on. People that truly follow Jesus don’t try to control one another; rather, they mentor others and celebrate their gifts. God only uses power to protect and discipline, never to abuse. 

As God’s children, there is no need for games and politics. We do not operate based upon secrets, because our relationships are founded upon honesty and merciful limitation. In the book Ministry of Healing we read, “The strongest argument in favor of the gospel is a loving and lovable Christian.” (p. 470) Truth is, even the blind can see when a church is really following Jesus, because their very atmosphere is dripping with grace.

Shayne Mason Vincent, MSW, is pastor of the Daytona Beach Adventist Church. www.YouTube.com / @PastorShayne Email him at: [email protected]

31 Jan


I never felt I was bad enough to be a minister.

I’m not saying I was a saint, nor am I claiming to have been a choirboy, but I never did drugs, never joined a gang, never killed anybody, didn’t smoke, drink, or abuse sex, and never lived like a hippie in a cave.

When I was younger, these types of experiences seemed to be prerequisites for joining the clergy, at least as a youth pastor or an evangelist. Having been redeemed from such habits and lifestyles provided opportunities for emotional testimonials that apparently enhanced evangelical effectiveness. They gave hope to the hopeless. They also seemed to help build careers in church administration.

There was something else about these folks. Many of the most enthusiastic Christians had the most colorful histories. The most passionate sinners became the most zealous saints. Perhaps pendulums retain their basic nature at both ends of their arcs.

My spiritual life was boring. I didn’t have an exciting redemption story, or even an interesting conversion. My experience was more like the one Christ described to Nicodemus. The Spirit came into my life periodically, like a quiet wind. I didn’t hear it coming, wasn’t sure from where it came, and couldn’t always see where it was leading. It’s hard to give a moving testimonial or preach a powerful sermon about an event for which one can’t “tell the exact time or place” it occurred and can’t “trace all the circumstances in the process.” 1  

So instead, I went into medicine. 

The medical specialty I chose contains addiction medicine as a subspecialty. My coursework included training and preparation for the provision of prevention, evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment services for those with unhealthy substance use or substance-related health conditions.

But no one really understands addiction. To comprehend addiction accurately and intelligently, one would have to have a complete understanding of the human brain and all of its genetic and social influences. While progress is being made in understanding the brain, we’re far closer to the beginning of the search than we are to the end.

Speaking of addiction, Dylan Thomas said that “an alcoholic is someone you don’t like who drinks as much as you do.” 

Here, though, is a better working definition of addiction:

“Addiction is a treatable, chronic medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individual’s life experiences. People with addiction use substances or engage in behaviors that become compulsive and often continue despite harmful consequences. Prevention efforts and treatment approaches for addiction are generally as successful as those for other chronic diseases.” 2

This suggests that human behaviors fall on a spectrum of habits and life activities that at some point can “become compulsive and continue despite harmful consequences.” Exactly where on that spectrum an individual passes from “normal” into addiction can’t be predicted and seems to differ for each person. The definition also proposes that addiction is influenced by both genetics and environment and involves complex neural circuits in the brain. 

The human brain is, arguably, the most complicated, intricate, and marvelous object on earth. It weighs about three pounds, feels a bit like tofu, and is about 80 percent water. It only experiences the world as a stream of electrical pulses and chemical interactions. And yet your brain, with its billions of nerve cells and trillions of cellular connections, is the site of your personality, your mind, your sexuality, your spirituality, your emotions, your memories, your thoughts, your sensations, your decisions, your impulses, your will, and much more. As Bill Bryson has said in describing the human body, “Your brain is you. All the rest is plumbing and scaffolding.” 3 

There are a limited number of neurotransmitters, though, which means each one stimulates many of our brain’s diverse functions. Dopamine is one neurotransmitter that has been extensively studied. It influences desire, creativity, meaning, planning, learning, memory, aggression, motivation, and judgment. It also interacts with circuits related to control, spirituality, sexual activity, impulsivity, and general pleasure. Dopamine has, in fact, been called the pleasure molecule, but perhaps a more appropriate term for it is “the molecule of more.” 4 It always pushes for more and never accepts the current situation as being adequate. It is a major actor in addiction. 

Without knowing anything about neurotransmitters, many authors have recognized addictive personality traits and the interplay of ostensibly conflicting systems and circuits in the brain. “Sex and religion are bordering states. They use the same vocabulary, share like ecstasies, and serve as substitutes for one another.” 5  “Sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whisky bottle in the hand of (another) … .” 6 “In religious fervor, there is a touch of animal heat.” 7 “Whatsoever odd action they (religious zealots) find in themselves a strong inclination to do, that impulse is concluded to be a call or direction from heaven, and must be obeyed; it is a commission from above, and they cannot err in executing it.” 8 Our professor of bioethics at medical school used to tell of a young man who preyed upon young women at religious revivals. He had found that their emotionally charged spiritual enthusiasm also decreased their moral inhibitions.

We usually talk about addiction to substances, and this process has commonly identified steps. First, one is exposed to a substance that brings great pleasure or relief. Then one begins to crave, use, and finally, abuse it. They become physically or psychologically dependent on it. Gradually, the dosage of the substance must increase for them to get the same effect. And, finally, the substance becomes the controlling object in their life. They continue to abuse it despite adverse consequences in their health, their family, their job, their finances, and their social interactions.

We also, however, now talk about addictive behaviors. We speak of addictions to things like sex, gambling, shopping, video games, plastic surgery, and even religion. Behaviors and addiction intersect at the point in our definition which states, “People with addiction … engage in behaviors that become compulsive and often continue despite harmful consequences.”

Foundational to the whole process of addiction, however, are important players that we sometimes overlook—those who provide, and usually push, the addictive substances and behaviors on vulnerable and often unsuspecting populations. These have been called addiction supply industries. They include such entities as drug cartels, cigarette companies, alcohol producers, pornography and video game creators, casinos, sports betting companies, and many others.

The concept of addiction supply industries raises some potentially disturbing questions about addictive behavior and religion. We may agree that addiction to religion happens, but we like to think that such characteristics are limited to cults, such as the People’s Temple at Jonestown in Guyana, Heaven’s Gate in Rancho Santa Fe, California, or the Branch Davidians at the Waco massacre in Texas. A closer look at all religious behavior, however, reveals some common features with other addictions. 

The promise, hope, and communion of religion provides pleasure to many, as well as relief from guilt and pain. Some adherents learn to crave it, use it, abuse it, and eventually become dependent on it. It may take control of someone’s life, and many religious communities require a complete surrender of the will. 

There are also many examples of pious preoccupations with religion producing severely adverse social and personal consequences. The religious leaders in Christ’s day hurried home to keep the Sabbath after having crucified the Creator of the Sabbath. In 1989, a 14-year-old son in a Seventh-day Adventist family died of starvation when his father refused to buy food with the thousands of dollars he had on hand because they were reserved for tithe.9 

Most of us would say such fanatical, addictive behavior is a sign of mental illness, but does the Church bear any responsibility? I would argue that it does. In my experience, some authorities in the Church have implied that an almost worshipful adherence to tithing, diet, baptism, temperance, and the hours of the Sabbath is required, even at the risk of the health and wellbeing of their members. Sometimes addiction supply industries do awful things out of sincere and apparently benevolent beliefs. But the Bible stresses freedom, which does not call for addictive behavior, even toward God, and Christ made it clear that pious behavior should never take precedence over the basic needs of humanity.

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

1 White, Ellen G., The Desire of Ages, p. 172.

2 Definition adopted by the American Society of Addiction Medicine Board of Directors, Sept. 15, 2019. (Used with permission.)

3 Bryson, Bill. The Body: A Guide for Occupants. New York: Anchor Books, 2019.

4 Lieberman, Daniel Z. and Long, Michael E. The Molecule of More. Dallas: BenBella Books, 2018.

5 West, Jessamyn. Hide and Seek. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973.

6 Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1960.

7 Whitman, Walt. The New Religion.

8 Locke, Jonathan. Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 1689.

9 https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1989-02-19-mn-170-story.html 

31 Jan


I was sitting in a doctor’s office one afternoon in 1978, flipping through Sports Illustrated. One article caught my eye. Sebastian Coe, a British middle-distance runner, was quoted by his interviewer as going out for a leisurely “four-minute mile.”

I sat upright. Something in that image grabbed me. The idea that a world-class runner could hit such a pace on his day off made me think maybe I could find my own leisurely pace. I was a full-time grad student, getting my exercise by riding my bike to classes. I’d run track in high school, won some races, and even set a school record in the 440. But it had been years since I’d run and I wanted to stretch myself.

So, I began. That year I ran my first 10K on a beautiful morning in Long Beach, California, breathing my mantra, “I won’t win, but I’ll always finish.”

In the years that followed, running became a regular part of my life. After teaching my classes, I’d slip out for an easy mile or two. On weekends, I’d go to a local track for wind sprints or run through the county parks nearby. During the summer and early autumn, I’d run six or seven 10K’s. It was a good way to relax, get some exercise, and fantasize about becoming Sebastian Coe. 

And then I got injured—badly enough that I couldn’t run. For a few days, even walking was painful. I’d strained my back carrying weights in each hand, trying to increase my muscle tone and endurance. That was the end of my racing career and eventually the end of running for me.

The weeks that followed my injury introduced me to addictive withdrawal. Because I couldn’t run without further injury, I had to stop cold turkey. Nothing felt right. My daily rhythm was off, I felt sluggish and irritable and my Puritan sense of duty was thwarted. How could something that made me feel so good—even the pain was good—be bad? After all, it was a good addiction.

I was planning to begin this essay by claiming I don’t have any addictions. Then I read Gerald May’s Addiction and Grace and understood how deeply entrenched in addictive behavior I am. 

May was a psychiatrist who devoted himself to the spiritual and psychological treatment of people with addictive behaviors. He describes addiction as “any compulsive, habitual behavior that limits the freedom of human destiny.” 

That got my attention because I rely on habits. At their best, habits are efficient ways to accomplish tasks without the drag of decision-making. At their worst, they are the precursors to addictive behaviors.

Addictions arise out of desires, says May, and when we desire and love, we are vulnerable to suffering. As anyone knows who has experienced unrequited love—or even the garden variety love between two people—love hurts. When it hurts, we repress the passion that fuels our desires (from passio, Latin for “to suffer”). Even our love for God, disguised though it might be, hurts us when God does not always cause us to lie down in green pastures, but appears as a wildfire or mysterious swirling darkness. 

We repress the desires that hurt us, says May, but addictions attach desires. Addictive attachments channel us away from freedom and nail us to addictive behaviors, creating the most powerful enemy of our desire for God.

My desire for God grew during high school. My generation was part of the first fruits of righteousness by faith in the 60s after the famine of legalism and perfectionism. There was a lot of resistance to this by leaders who feared that letting up the pressure to perfectly reflect the character of God would result in anarchy. But it was a liberation and, for many of us, it was the beginning of a spiritual life deeper than religious observance.

We’re all addicts—psychologically, neurologically, and spiritually. We seem predisposed to addiction by the physiological construction of our brains: neurons that communicate through connections called synapses, and synapses that are bound into vast networks that mediate our thoughts and feelings, our sensations and memories, and our actions. Habits create a tolerance that must be upped to maintain balance. The complexity of the brain and its trillions of synaptic connections guarantee that, for all our probing of this mysterious mass, we will never fully understand our motivations and hopes.

When we realize that our addictions are controlling our lives, we tend to choose one of several options. We might deny our addiction, claiming that we’ve chosen these behaviors of our own free will. Or we tell ourselves we can handle it; we can quit anytime. Or we can admit our defeat and trust in God to break our patterns. 

That’s what I thought I was doing when I opened the door to Jesus while giving a talk at a Week of Prayer in high school. I’d been a good kid, a spiritual leader of sorts, but my attitude was merely dutiful. After conversion, I wasn’t demonstrably giddy, but I did experience joy disguised as relief. 

Gerald May notes that we make only three responses to God’s fierce, but loving call. First, we may deny or repress our desire for God. That sometimes works, but just as often Jesus’ call nudges us as Peter painfully discovered. Second, we create an image of our spiritual identity, a new persona to preserve in place of God. Or third, we choose the contemplative way, to be as open to God and reality as we are able. 

My addiction was transactional: I would obey and God would reward me. That hadn’t worked at all. I couldn’t perfectly obey and when I tried, it was for all the wrong reasons. God wants a cheerful lover and I was the petulant and surly sort. After conversion, I fell into a different addiction: the certainty that I was on the winning side and was now a fully-certified evangelist, commissioned to right wrongs and harass people into the truth.

Now, at seventy, I face a new addiction: to distance myself from Christianity and those who have embraced “God, guns, and Trump.” Yet, as Brian McLaren points out in Do I Stay Christian? distancing myself from the fatal weaknesses of Christianity allows me to proclaim my own innocence and to live swollen with spiritual pride.

I am far less certain of almost everything about God except that “nothing can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” Trusting in that allows me to admit my distrust and to discover my true self, created in God’s image.

I’ll never be completely free of spiritual addictions, for I am created to long for God, a longing that leads me into temptation as much as it opens me to God’s unfathomable grace. To transcend any idol of addiction is to experience the feast that creates a hunger for the filling of God’s love. Perhaps then we will have an answer, as Jesus asked the blind man, “What do you want me to do for you?”

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]

31 Jan


When I lived in England and watched the part of the BBC news in which the results of the day’s cricket matches were announced, I was totally lost. I had (and have) no idea what is meant by “wickets,” “innings,” and “overs.” Many people likewise feel totally excluded when computer nerds discuss their current cyber activities, since they have no idea what is meant by such terms as “cloud,” “cookies,” “IP- address,” “terabytes,” or “spyware.” Although I am using my laptop very intensely, I must confess I have only a vague idea what most computer terms mean. 

For most of the people in today’s secular society, religious language is just as mysterious as the cricket lingo is for me, and the cyber language is for most seniors. Terms like “atonement,” “justification,” “sanctification,” “covenant,” and “salvation” often mean very little, if anything, to them. And many do not have a clue about the difference between imputed and imparted righteousness, nor do they have any idea who Jacob, David, Solomon, James, or Nicodemus might have been. 

Unfortunately, many Adventist communicators have not adequately mastered the art of communicating to secular people who have little or no knowledge of the Bible. No genuine communication can take place when the language used by one party is “foreign” to the other. Communication is a complicated process in any case, and much of what is “sent” by the “speaker” is often lost in the “noise” of the communication process, and not “heard” by the “receiver.” It is vital that, at the very least, the speaker and the hearer use the same language. However, the fact that both may use a form of English, Dutch, or Spanish is no guarantee that communication actually takes place.

Language Games

Experts in linguistics have pointed out that groups of people tend to create their own language, with its own peculiar vocabulary, in which words may acquire a meaning that is unknown to outsiders. This applies to members of a particular profession, to those who study a particular discipline, or have the same hobby. But it is also true for people who share a body of religious teachings. Such groups, philosophers of language tell us, “play” their own “language game.” 

The famous Austrian-British philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) developed this concept and argued that words, and even sentences, have a meaning that results from “rules” which have been agreed upon by the members of such a group. I would certainly not agree with Wittgenstein’s view that our words are nothing more than that, and that they do not actually refer to any kind of reality behind them. I simply want to stress the point that a religious community, like that of Seventh-day Adventists, creates its own language.

The fact that Adventists have their own peculiar jargon can be a serious obstacle, not only when we connect with non-believers, but also in our contacts with other Christians and even with new Adventist Christians or those who are on the fringe of the church. Let me mention just a few examples of words and expressions that seem like gobbledygook to “outsiders”:

Adventists are called to help “finish the work.” The “loud cry” must be heard, and the “latter rain” must fall before Christ can come. Of course, the world will have to face the “great tribulation” and “the time of Jacob’s trouble,” before the believers can ever hope to stand on “the sea of glass.” The “pioneers” have given a bright example in “stewardship” and “health reform,” but the core of the “present truth” is found in ‘the ‘three angels’ messages.” We are guided by the “Spirit of Prophecy” and are expected to know all about the “seal of God” and the “mark of the beast,” about the “dragon” and the “little horn.” 

And so on. Most non-Adventists wonder what this is all about.

The Three Angels’ Messages

Lately, Adventists hear frequent appeals that they must “go” and share “the three angels’ messages” as widely as possible with other people. For many of us, the term has become so common that we hardly stop to think what it actually means. We are accustomed to pictures of three angels flying in close formation, with trumpets, or hands cupped around their mouths, indicating that they raise their voices with their important messages. 

When I worked in the office of the European regional office of the Adventist Church in St. Albans (UK), our family doctor had his office right across the street. One day, he asked me where I worked, and when I told him it was in the building he could see from his office window, he said: “That’s a nice place, but what do these three rabbits on the front mean?” He referred to a sculpture of the three angels but had no idea what this symbolized. Until a few decades ago the official logo of the church featured the three angels, but in 1996 the denomination decided to adopt a different logo, since it was clear that the former one was quite meaningless for the public at large.

Yet, the concept of the three angels’ messages remains an essential part of the identity of our church—regardless of whether the denominational logo refers to it. During a recent important meeting of the executive committee of the world church, it was linked to all aspects of Adventism. The expression is found in virtually all mission statements of denominational entities. We read in the Mission Statement of the General Conference—Our Mission is:

Make disciples of Jesus Christ who live as His loving witnesses and proclaim to all people the everlasting gospel of the Three Angels’ Messages in preparation for His soon return (Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 1:8, Rev 14:6-12).

But let’s be honest: Do most Adventists understand what the words “three angels’ messages” actually mean, or is this expression for most members just part of traditional Adventist jargon and of the Adventist language game? Do they know what they must tell people when they want to respond to the appeal to “go” and “proclaim the three angel’s messages”?  

Effective communication presupposes that you know what you are talking about. And, also, that you know the language of your audience and can express yourself in that language. And, equally important, that you are able to translate the message in words and images that are part the other person’s world and fit with his/her level of understanding. It seems that many leaders, who emphasize the “total involvement” of all church members, ignore these fundamental principles. As a result, no real communication can take place. Preachers who ignore these basic elements will soon discover that most people fail to respond. Moreover, many church publications do not use the kind of language that most of the intended audience understands.

I have from time to time tried to find out how much the average church member actually knows about the “three angels’ messages” by asking some questions before I embarked on my sermon. Simple questions, such as: Can you summarize the message of angel number one? And of angel number two and angel number three? In each case the response was quite disappointing. Most church members know that the expression refers to a few texts in John’s Revelation. A fair number connect the words “everlasting gospel” with the message of the first angel. But knowledge about the content of the messages of the three angels is very meagre indeed. 

Communicating What the Angels Say

How can we get beyond the stage of simply using Adventist jargon? How can we intelligently talk about this topic with those who do not know the rules of our language game? First, we must understand what we talk about. At this point, the church faces a momentous challenge: How do we make sure that the people in the pew not only know that they can find the passage of the three angels in the book of Revelation 14:6-12, but also in what broader context this passage is situated. And how do they learn to explain in twenty-first century language what these messages mean for our times—and why other people must know about their content.

What is the core of these three messages? What is the essence of what we must share with others once we understand it ourselves? This, I believe, is the core:

  1. The gospel of Christ has abiding significance: Followers of Christ are called to worship God as their Creator and must therefore show themselves conscientious stewards of the environment which He has created and entrusted to their care.

  2. Coming out of Babylon means: Followers of Christ must be very selective in what they believe and preach, as well as in the lifestyle they adopt. They must resolutely turn their back on everything that clashes with sound biblical teachings.

  3. Following Christ means: Making a clear choice, for or against a life with, and in, Christ. Followers of the Lord must know where their ultimate loyalty lies, with all the concrete implications this involves.

We can only hope to communicate the messages of the three angels if we have truly understood them ourselves and have grasped how they impact the way we live and worship. If we decide to spend time and creative energy in translating the message of the three angels into realities of the twenty-first century, we may trust that the Holy Spirit will guide us in our endeavor.

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]

31 Jan


Do you know why people smoke crack? It’s the same reason why people smoke cigarettes, or weed, or shoot heroin, or do meth, or drink excessive amounts of alcohol, or binge sugary things.

It makes them feel good.

It does not make them BE good, only FEEL good. It’s that feeling that is part of what leads to addiction. It becomes a need because, when they don’t do the thing that makes them feel good, they feel exceptionally bad.

Of course, not everything people become addicted to is inherently bad. People can be addicted to eating, even if the food is healthy. Exercise can be addicting. Sex.

When we are addicted, even good things are taken to bad places.

One thing that makes it difficult when dealing with someone addicted is that they often convince themselves that what they are doing is both healthy and correct. To see it any other way suggests they have a problem and need to change.

But change can be uncomfortable. It doesn’t feel good in the moment. Especially when we usually only change when we accept we are incorrect about something. And incorrect is wrong. And wrong is bad. And bad is evil. And evil is sin. And sin is damnation.

Next thing we know we are going to hell and burning forever.

Or only burning for a moment.

Or whatever it is that person believes that might not actually be true.

Perhaps that’s why belief and religion can be an addiction. Some people believe what they believe in part out of fear of consequences. But others believe what they believe because it makes them feel good.

That isn’t automatically bad. But what if that belief/practice/religion that makes them feel good, isn’t actually accurate? What if it doesn’t matter that it’s easily disproven? What if, if they can’t believe that thing that is incorrect and easily disproven, they can’t handle life without it? What if they would rather become horrible, unhealthy people living a lie than feel that feeling of being wrong?

And what if they would rather make someone else feel horrible about themselves than accept the truth of their own errancy? 

This is where things stop being about religion and belief, which is about seeking truth, speaking truth, and living truth to the best of our ability … which requires constant adaptation and change, and they start being about culture, which doesn’t require any sort of accuracy or honesty at all.

Culture also isn’t inherently bad. It just isn’t inherently good. But it can breed some very bad things. And it can normalize those things as a positive way of life. And positive is good. And good is righteous. And righteous is sinless.

And sinless is salvific.

And suddenly we are saying or doing or being or teaching terrible things and declaring them the way to heaven. Or whatever one believes about such things.

And the truth never once comes into play. Because for whatever reason, that way of life has been skewed to benefit us in some way that makes us feel good about ourselves or the way we do things. It makes us feel good and people like to feel good at almost any cost.

In recent years, we have all born witness to someone screaming something horrible and inaccurate with some sort of righteous fervor, either politically, religiously, or both. Something that is obvious and easily disproven. But when the research/facts are presented, they deny it all with a blind certainty that is terrifying in its insanity.

They do this because they NEED that lie to be true. They have built a self-view upon that thing, whatever it is. It makes them feel good about who they are and what they believe.

There is more to it, of course, and I may be over generalizing some. But before dismissing it all, consider how, over the last 6 years, white nationalism and Christianity have become besties. Not universally. But to an uncomfortable degree. And by “uncomfortable degree” I mean that any degree at all is evil.

And then, loud and large chunks of both groups have created the narrative that, to be a good American is to follow their lead. 

Now, I don’t actually care what political group any of you are a part of. None of the groups have the market cornered on truth and goodness. But the moment that anyone pushing racism and an “I’m right and you’re evil” mentality as being a “good American,” we’ve collectively jumped the shark and now it’s no longer about right and wrong and truth and accuracy. It’s about what makes me feel good in relation to those around me and makes sure I’m accepted by the people I think I need to be accepted by.

And, just in case one wishes to believe Adventism is some sort of exception, I give you the long list of independent ministries lead by conspiracy theorists who make their living selling to Adventists who need what they say to be true. And a denomination who won’t put a stop to it because half the leadership is buying what’s being sold.

When I was pastoring churches, I once had one of our prominent independent ministry health chefs leave a voicemail on the church answering machine that was the most arrogant and hateful thing I’ve ever had anyone say about me. Apparently, he had called before and not received a return phone call. This turned out to be because the very kind, and very old, ladies who ran the clothing giveaway ministry we had, where we gave away clothes to people who needed them, would try to check messages and accidentally delete them … about 99% of the time.

I never had, and still never have, met this man who told me in no uncertain terms that anyone who wouldn’t return his phone call and invite him in was of low moral character and a servant of Satan leading his church to hell. He went on to say that any congregation that would allow me to be their pastor couldn’t possibly love God and care about people, because if we did, we would invite him because his ministry saves lives. He continued by telling me how important he was, how many awards he’d received, and how popular he was on 3ABN and some of our other TV networks.

I only know this because I happened to check the machine after he made that call, but before the kindly elderly ladies tried to “help” me by accidentally deleting messages. The entire message was over 6 minutes long. Go ahead and rant for 6 minutes and tell me how long that is? I’ll wait.

But, you know, I’m sure he felt good about himself after sending that message. And why wouldn’t he? The culture he lives in tells him he was correct to do so. 

When our affiliation to group and culture starts dictating belief and practice, and not God and accuracy, our belief and practice become nothing but a useless addiction that does nothing but make us feel good. And there is more to life than feeling good.

Like, maybe, trying to be good.

It’s just a thought.

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]