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The Advent Struggle

I've been trying to write this for literally a month but haven't been able to. Not sure why but it just hasn't flowed. So, here's the attempt:

On a regular basis, I hear from or about friends who have stopped going to church. There are numerous reasons why they are leaving but one common thread seems to be a feeling that church has become meaningless. They've felt this for a long time but kept going because they hoped it would get better or just because they'd feel guilty if they didn't. But, they aren't going to play the game anymore. The young adult exodus out of the church isn't news to really anyone but there's something important that I think will make this crisis be more severe.

When you examine recent Adventist history, there have been several crises of faith including EGW and Inspiration, Desmond Ford, and Creation/Science (to a small degree). What are the characteristics of all of them?

1. They are based on a doctrinal position and are very theological in nature.
2. The official response has been to confirm the conservative position, clearly define what the "truth" is, and seek to vilify and exclude those who disagree with the official position.

How does this affect our present situation? First, the church hasn't had to deal with a crisis of methodology and lifestyle. We've taken on the theological issues but not the issues that are affecting young adults. We are largely unprepared and/or unwilling to address them. Second, the kind of responses to those theological issues will not suffice for today's issues. There needs to be a broadening and openness to new articulations of faith and life as an Adventist. The response must seek to be as inclusive as possible and not seek to provide labels that are used to exclude and divide.

There is no magic bullet that will answer and cure all the issues. However, there is an attitude adjustment that might help us move forward. The church has long touted our unity as a world church but perhaps this is what's holding us back. We've sought to have a unity of sameness. Instead, we need to explore how we can more effectively provide a unity within diversity. This will allow for fresh expressions of faith and Adventist culture while still embracing what unites us as a world-wide body of believers.



Anonymous said…
Trevan, the "emerging" Adventist. I am thinking out loud, as to what might be a "fresh expression of faith and Adventist culture". Its interesting that even in using our name "adventist" we like all other denominations, distinguish and almost isolate ourselves from what we all claim as the global Christian community. One more comment about the last sentence in you post, "...embracing what unites us". I just preached a sermon that dealt with that which binds all of christianity from Ephesians 4, one hope, one God, one spirit. one love... I think I will post a blog in response to your post. check it out in a few days. Peace and love.
j said…
Trevan- thanks for giving me something fun to think about!
Bulworth said…
So do I understand you to mean that the crisis this time is NOT theological? If so, is this (just) a problem of relevance, an issue of style rather than substance?

trevan said…

Good question. I definitely think there are some theological issues at play but it's not one particular issue that can be nailed down like the other crises I mention. Also, the issues of style and relevance are playing a major role which is different than before.

In many ways, anything relating to the church is "theological." I guess maybe the term "doctrinal" would have fit better. Thougth, the more I'm thinking about it now, the more I'm seeing that in many ways it is a theological problem. I think I'll do some follow-up posting to get more in-depth. I'm hoping the comments and questions from people like you can help me articulate my thoughts more fully. I view this as a post still in progress.
The Christian faith, esp. the Adventist variety, is a challenging one in modern times, in any time, really. When one comes to this faith and stays in it, that in itself is a miracle. There's no explaining it. It's a combination of needing the Christian faith or adventist version of it enough to continue enjoying it. One can almost say that it is a gift, that has to be held onto eagerly. For those that leave, perhaps the depth of their spirituality was never deep to begin with. It is always possible that one day they may pick up where they left off. It is impossible to force spirituality or faith. That so many young folk leave may be an indication of the times. "The love of many will grow cold."
Brenton said…
I agree Trevan, I think this is a theological problem.

At my own peril, I am going to disagree with Johnny. In his post in dialogue with this one, Johnny wrote that, "for a good number of our younger adherents regular participation in the Adventist church is more about belonging and behaving than believing." I too enjoyed Richard Rices book, and it seems to me that we as Adventists have taken belonging for granted because it just sorta' happens when we have unique beliefs like keeping Sabbath on Saturday. What we believe (or are told we should prioritize in our beliefs) then becomes the basis for our community. Therefore, as some of my good friends have changed their beliefs/priorities, they have left the Adventist community. I know some will think this is the way it should be. I do not.

I wish we could articulate an ecclesiology that would allow for the "unity in diversity" you spoke of. Over at Epicenter Conversations we have been talking about this a bit here. Although, admittedly we haven't made much progress.

In a related issue, I have spoken with some of my friends who dislike the lecture format of worship services. As young people, we tend to get enough lectures at home, in class, and at work that another lecture on beliefs at church lacks meaning. In addition, the format itself makes God seem authoritarian and dictatorial, not at all the friend Jesus was all about in John 15.

Perhaps a focus on God as relational in a community emphasizing dialogue, mission, worship, and interaction with love, justice, and humility would help to keep young adults engaged. I know it would for me. (Please understand pastors that I am not suggesting an end to preaching. The pastor should cast a vision. I am brainstorming for a new vision and one that I know many but not nearly enough are already implementing.)

I feel that there is much more to say, and many terms to define, but others can and have said it much better than me...
j said…
I'm trying to understand what Brenton sees as disagreeable in what I wrote. Is it the "good number" part? Please be specific.

You go on to say that some of your own friends have left after changing beliefs. You then wish for a community more welcoming of those asking questions and seeking alternate formats of worship.

I do ask- "How well are we doing in creating a space for them to develop their faith and cement their beliefs?" the very next line from the excerpt you objected to.

I should say that while the first half of my post is a reflection on Trevans the second half is more concerned with the pastoral responsibility to nurture community.

It is indeed a personal reflection on an event specific to Hollywood SDA and my understanding in a deep way the incredible responsibility we as a church, and pastors, have.

Then I reflect on Richard Rices chapter on the churches number one problem in light of that realization. And so ends the post.

I realize that perhaps Trevans questions might be more general and mine perhaps is specific to what I experienced.

I did get a chance to read your post at Epicenter Conversations and liked what you said. Interestingly enough you quote Rice saying that belonging is more important and fundamental than believing and behaving. Which is the very point you were objecting to.

I wonder if the problems everyone seems to be wrestling with are not limited to young people. I know plenty of Boomers who were once heavily involved in church (the Adventist version of "involved" seems to center on attendance and not much else) who no longer are. I just wonder if by approaching this argument from the perspective of young adults works against us, making it sound like the crisis facing the church is simply a generational difference that will be overcome with time. I think we have all heard the "they'll eventually come back when they have kids" argument. I wonder how that point of view would track with the people who live across the street who have never gone to church? After all, isn't that more of the point?
Anonymous said…
I appreciate the thought that is going into this conversation. I think what is causing young people and even older people to bail out of church has more to do with a loss of purpose than anything else. All the battles over style and inclusion miss the point. It was Thomas Sine who said, "In the absence of a big dream, pettiness prevails." In most of Western Christianity (not just Adventism)the "big dream" of the kingdom of God has been lost. Re-read the sermon on the mount. Jesus' kingdom vision was absolutely revolutionary. It turned the existing order of things on its head. He was announcing a counter-cultural movement that was only possible through a radical spiritual rebirth. It couldn't be achieved by man-made rules and regulations. It couldn't be achieved by military might or political activism. It could only be accomplished through an unprecedented submission to, and partnership with, the Living God. "Attendance" wasn't the purpose of the early church. Neither was "lectures," debates, music styles, drama, or any of the other things we get exercised about. Extending the triumphs of the cross, making disciples, establishing the kingdom of God by infusing the culture of selfishness with the culture of love, rescue of the lost--that was the purpose of the early church. We need to get back to basics. Back to the radical nature of the kingdom Jesus preached. This will inspire young and old generations and give us all something better and more nobler to pursue than the pettiness of prosperity gospel, "Holy Grounds" coffee counters, whether to clap or not clap, raise hands or not, use puppets, or dancers, or organs or drums, or hymnals or powerpoint, etc. What has any of those things to do with the kingdom Christ gave us to build? We've gone soft. Lost the ground zero of our faith. And gotten sidetracked by the sideshow we know as modern Christianity.

Oh, and ask yourself the question, did the disciples get more focused, more intense, more dogmatic, more passionate or less after Pentecost? I submit it was the former. There's a tendency to think today that if we were more Christ-like, we'd be more tolerant of diverse opinions and much softer on sin, standards of Christian behavior, etc. It all gets rather soft and fluffy--a kind of nebulous nothing that's worth a frothy frappacino and some cuddly feelings but not much else. Where do we get those ideas? Not from the Bible. Read the sermon on the mount again. Anything frothy and fluffy about what Jesus says? Look at the Disciples post Pentecost. I see young people on fire with the gospel who aren't willing to soft-peddle the gospel even to the point of their own lives. Talk about intolerance! "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12)

These early believers had received something we sorely miss in our modern version of Christianity--power. We leave because we're bored. We're bored because we've lost the person and message of the real Jesus. We've grown weary of the endless and irrelevant debates around empty altars.

"After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly." (Acts 4:31)

We need to pray and be shaken. The answer to the exodus of young people (and old) from the church isn't more debate or a better music ministry. It's to be filled with the Holy Spirit so we can speak the word of God boldly. It's to recapture our mission. To fall in love with the real Jesus again.

Sorry for the long post. I feel passionately about this and want the real Jesus in my own life and ministry. This discussion is important. Keep searching. But know where to search. Go back to the source. Peace and blessings.

Randy Maxwell
Thanks Randy for the post. I find so much of what you had to say enlightening and inspiring. Your articulation of the purpose of the Kingdom is fantastic.

Yet, I wonder if what you offered in the end is a very attractive and well reasoned magic bullet. I want to be part of a community infused by the Holy Spirit. But how? What does that look like? Where can we see contemporary examples of what you describe? If we are to seriously make progress on what Trevan has described as a crisis, all magic bullets must come equipped with rubber-meets-the-road solutions.
Brenton said…
Johnny, I think I see the point of confusion. You were referring to the desire of the younger adherents. I thought you were attempting to describe the reality of our experience as young Adventists which for me has been overwhelmingly about believing, a lot about behaving, and very little about belonging. I would be a part of the "good number of our younger adherents" for whom "regular participation in the Adventist church is more about belonging and behaving than believing." Unfortunately, the reality of my experience has been much different.

Many in the 'younger generation'... (I am still using that term despite the inaccuracy. I too know many middle aged and older folks who would resonate with the same ideas. Is there a better term such as 'progressive adventists' that would be more inclusive?) ...may truly desire an authentic walk with Christ in a Spirit-filled community similar to what Randy articulated so emphatically above. I resonate with what you are saying Randy and your post helps to define some terms I used such as missional and worship. However, the religion modeled for me and I suspect many others has been much more about maintaining the status quo and walling ourselves off from evil influences rather than extending the kingdom of God and seeking to do justice, love, and humility. So, many of my friends never even had the opportunity to get excited about a passionate, revolutionary, Spirit-filled community of believers.

In my opinion, the disciples got a whole lot less dogmatic and much more inclusive through their experiences as told by Luke in Luke/Acts. It also seems to me that Jesus was honest but gentle (soft?) with hurting, confused sinners and brutally straight with self-assured, misguided religious leaders.
spo said…
I have given up!

My father is a pastor, my husband in a pastor, and I have given up on church...funny!

I still show up every Sabbath and support Trevan because I know that he wants things to change, but do I honestly believe that change will happen? Not a chance.

Don't get me wrong, I am not a pessimist. I just think that until we learn to accept that God made us all different, therefore, church must be different things to different people, we will never get anywhere. As Trevan said, we pride ourselves in being a world-wide church of sameness. Therein lies our biggest fault.

I will continue pretending to be the same with everyone else at church on Sabbath morning, and being unique as God created me to be during the week. Maybe that is the purpose of church!
Anonymous said…
Please don't give up! Never underestimate what the Holy Spirit can do with an individual or group determined to have all of Him.

If you're wondering how we get to the Holy Spirit community as described in Acts, the rubber-meets-the-road answer is: the same way the people in Acts got it. "They all joined together constantly in prayer,..." (Acts 1:14)

There is no other "magic bullet" other than sustained prayer, surrendered hearts, and reconciled relationships. There were a lot of "issues" among those gathered in the upper room. They didn't start out as a unified group. There was lingering trust issues with Peter who had denied Christ. The brothers of Jesus were there, probably still ticked off that Jesus had given the care of their mother to John. The others may have even resented Jesus' brothers being there because they had never really supported Jesus anyway, and had tried to bring him home. Were the others still upset with James and John for trying to get the top spots in the new kingdom?

For ten days they waited and prayed and confessed their faults to each other and mended some fences. Honestly, have we done that? It's obvious from the blogs posted here that we have some relational issues with the church. Issues of exclusion. Issues of conformity. Issues of worship, beliefs, belonging, etc. Have we confessed these faults one to another? Have we prayed together with those we have the issues with so we, too, can be in "one accord."?

If this sounds overly simplistic, forgive me. But we keep looking for the "solution" as if it's going to be found in a book, seminar, or on a DVD. I throw out the challenge because this step--prayer and reconciliation--is the one step no one seems willing to take. Would it work? Yes. And there are modern-day examples of this.

One other thing. Pentecost followed calvary. One can't occur without the other. The Holy-spirit filled community empowered to do the actual mission of Christ follows--not precedes--calvary. This means death to self. Not a very popular topic today. Reminds me of an old southern gospel quartet song: "Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die."

Look, I'm enjoying this dialogue and I think we all are learning from it. Let me just say that if we ever want the church to change, it won't happen if all we do is bemoan what has been. Consider this quote from Steve Chalke's book, The Lost Message of Jesus:

"We get the Christianity we deserve--we just can't pass the buck. The Church in the West--with some notable exceptions--has a tame faith because it has been giving a tame message for centuries. You can't breed a radical, revolutionary movement on passive, middle-of-the-road rhetoric."

Stop thinking "church" and start thinking about the Kingdom. As Ghandi said, "We must be the change we want to see in the world."

It starts with us. One at a time. The visible church may not feel the effect for some time, but the invisible church--the people of the kingdom who live to serve the King can begin to move by the Spirit and transform the landscape from inside out.

The very fact that many here are chaffing under the status quo is proof that God is on the move. Two more quotes: "Preceding revivals there often seems to be a 'widespread spirit of dissatisfaction among those God is preparing for what He is about to do. The heart of man begins to cry out for God, for spiritual certainties, for fresh visions. From a faint desire this multiplies until it becomes a vast human need; until in its urgency it seems to beat with violence at the very gates of heaven." (James Burns)

This "dissatisfaction" is God-produced. Matthew Henry states, "Whenever God intends great mercy for His people, it is He first of all who sets them a praying."

Keep blogging and sharing. The dissatisfaction is God-produced. He must intend a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit. But we can't stop until we've prayed. That's His chosen method (see Acts 1:14 again along with 2 Chron. 7:14). If you want to call it a "magic bullet" go ahead. I prefer to call it God's promise.

Unknown said…
I'd argue that the central problem of the Adventist church is the utter lack of focus on the gospel of Jesus Christ. Perhaps this is because the gospel is seen as "old hat" or maybe because it is doctrinal ground that other Christian denominations have already claimed. So instead of preaching "the power of God unto salvation," many Adventists focus on the things that make one Adventist apart from being a Christian.

If the Adventist church wants to avoid a long and painful decline in attendance, it would do well to discover and preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified. The farther away from 1844 that time progresses, the less compelling the distinctive message of Adventism becomes. The kids in the pews intuitively understand this, but the question is, have they seen the depth of their sin and their great need for a Savior?

Scott A. said…
I've been reading and talking about this issue a lot recently. In my reading I've seen many reasons for declining young adult attendance. For instance, read Dear Church: Letters to the church from a disenfranchised generation. (check Google and Amazon for details). The author speaks of all sorts of reasons... but I rarely see the specific reason for why I stopped attending church.

People are wounded and hurt. There is no room in church as it is for brokenness.

I have had deep issues of all sorts with the Adventist church: theological, soteriological, eschatological, worshipful, and practical. But I stayed through all of that. I have even been a pastor at more than one Adventist church.

What drove me away? Matters of the heart. When I was broken the worship services offered nothing but "Happy Sabbath" when I desperately needed to lament. I was offered point-by-point steps to a full and vibrant life, but there was no room to bleed.

Sure, our church isn't relevant. I'm an artist and musician. Adventist worship bored me silly but I remained... until it was no longer relevant to my heart.

Perhaps that's one reason for this crisis you mention?
Anonymous said…
Scott, I am very curious about your experience as an Adventist pastor. You said that when you were broken, the worship services offered nothing but "Happy Sabbath" and steps to a full life, but offered no place to bleed. Does that describe services that you yourself led as a pastor? When you were a church leader, did you construct a service that offered what you yourself were looking for? Have you found this type of ministry in another faith community? If so, what is the model being used there? Are you still a pastor? I'm intrigued by your unique position in the church and your experiences. what would be your vision for a relevant worship experience for those who are hurting, and why didn't/haven't you as a pastor, implemented that vision? Please share.

trevan said…

I've thought quite a bit about how the church can lead people through different seasons of life. I agree that we need to do more than pretend that everything is happy this and happy that every week. I haven't really sat down too much to think about how this can be done but you're giving me some extra motivation to do so. Any thoughts yourself?
Scott A. said…
Randy, Trevan,
Thank you both so much for the very thoughtful responses. Ideally, this would be the point where we head to the closest coffee shop and talk into the late night hours.

I'll do my best to answer. I've already started and re-started responses... we'll see where I get. If my answers aren't as coherent as they could be, please respond and we'll figure it out. Fair warning.. I don't know how to answer these questions with just a few words. :) Forgive me for rambling, I don't get to talk about these ideas outside of my closest circle of friends.

I'll break my response up into separate posts for ease of reading.
Scott A. said…
Wow, Randy, those are some great questions that deserve good answers.

In short, the experiences I describe happened after I left (for now) pastoral ministry. only occasionally have I had the chance to craft a church service that might address what I was (am) looking for. Now for the "in long" response.

My experience as a church leader: I first worked as a youth and associate pastor for a very conservative church in a very progressive conference (SECC). That church's structure, along with my senior pastor, did not allow for radical changes to the standard Adventist worship service. My job description was explicitly defined by a controlling senior pastor, so I essentially did what I could within an unchanging system. With my youth, I did my best to create a place where they could be safe and vulnerable. It seemed to have worked, though I left after a year.

After working there, I spent a month as an associate pastor for a different church in the same area. This church was much more progressive. I was reassigned here as a temporary gesture to remove me from conflict at the first church before I left ministerial employ at the end of the month.

My time at the first church was very painful. It was this experience that left me very hurt and broken. The congregation was great, my youth beautiful, but other factors were abusive and stifling. More detail wouldn't be appropriate in a public forum like the web. For various reasons (both local parish and conference level, both spiritual, emotional, and financial), making a living as a pastor was no longer viable and I accepted a web and graphic design position at a university. I'm there now, and in my free time I'm pursing an MA in Worship, Theology, and the Arts at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena.

During my time as a pastor (and in the time before that as a pastoral intern at a very large, very progressive church) I could change programming, but do very little beyond that. My ability and freedom to construct a worship service stopped at special music. With my youth, thank God, we had a safe place where we really enjoyed, learned about, and prayed with each other.

One of the places in an Adventist service that does not have room for brokenness is the very shape of the worship. Opening prayer, doxology, announcements, songs, offering, special music, sermon, closing song, prayer. This isn't just an Adventist problem; it's part of our heritage as Protestants. These services were designed to educate the mind, to serve as teaching and evangelistic tools. The amount of engagement demanded of a participant was to attend, sit quietly (and if we follow the SDA church manual, to not laugh or talk loudly before OR after the service -- bizarre, no?), pay tithe, sing, stand, and leave. Continuous Dialogue touches on this in an earlier comment, "the Adventist version of 'involved' seems to center on attendance and not much else[.]" The engagement and exposure of our hearts, as a gathered community, before the presence of God who has the power to heal, deliver, and restore, is not asked for or often even allowed. It's about the program, the platform, the sermon is the center of the service.
Scott A. said…
Going to another question from Randy, "Have you found this type of ministry in another faith community? If so, what is the model being used there?"

The form of church and community where I have experienced the most profound experiences of fellowship, vulnerability, healing, and presence of God has been the small group, home church community. I was very lucky to have been a part of a couple different groups in the years before I started professional pastoral ministry. I've never been extensively involved with other denominations, and my house church/small group experiences have all been with other Adventists (albeit fairly progressive ones. In fact, Johnny once attended one of them a few times).

Practically, of course small groups allow for more intimacy than large corporate gatherings. So what's the point of church (the Sabbath morning, Friday night, Sunday morning, whatever)? I'm not entirely sure right now, it's something I'm wrestling with. Perhaps someone here could respond to that? This is an issue I'm sure many of the emerging and post-modern churches are dealing with.

Perhaps the service isn't the whole problem, but rather that as Adventists we've placed the entire burden of spiritual enlightenment upon the Sat. service (and the pastor), expecting it to fill a void where discipleship, prayer, healing, service, deep fellowship, maybe even sacred romance should exist. To readdress the issue of Adventism's relevance, what on earth does an Adventist worship service (which has become the sum totality of "church" to so many) offer to us between Sunday and Sabbath? We lack a theology of everyday, ordinary living... i.e., the place where we live and breath, break and bleed.
Scott A. said…
"Are you still a pastor?" asks Randy.

I'm no longer a pastor. Somehow I ended up as a web and graphic designer. I'm also still an Adventist (of some weird, heretical Southern Californian sort). But if I don't return to pastoral ministry I'll probably go crazy and end up depressed. It's my calling, it's my identity. But where will it happen? I have no idea. I don't know how easily I'd be able to pastor again in the same system with all of these concerns I've been sharing. I am just ITCHING to dive into church, to create a community that fosters healing and wholeness, to share the freedom that is our true identities in Christ. In my life and in past ministry, I am a healer. I am an artist (singer, designer, writer, photographer, liturgist) and I need to create a community safe for others like me. Just as the Adventist church has not allowed open wounds, we've also not allow those people slightly to the left of society who think outside the box, because a modernist, conservative, at times iconoclastic Adventist structure stifles freedom and creative spirit -- indeed, even The Spirit.

Only in small spurts have I been able to implement something different. So I pray for the time when I can dive fully back into this, to implement something new and healing. If I ever pastor a church again, and a worshipper is not given an opportunity to be vulnerable before God's throne, to come to His altar for healing, praise, forgiveness, to place a sacrifice there, to hear grace, to follow the Spirit through His Word (spirit, scripture, whatever), or to simply rest in Christ's arms, please take me out back and smack me senseless, because I will have failed as a minister.

So how does all of this address a crisis within Adventism? It's my personal crisis within Adventism that I've seen echoed in others, created by a conflict with our church's very structure and focus on belief over relationship. Another relevant book for this discussion could be "Out of the Question and into the Mystery: Adventures in Missing the Point" by Leonard Sweet who asks, "Have we missed the person by getting the point? Have we place right belief over right relationship?" I'll take that a little further. Does the current young adult (and even Boomer) generation even CARE about right belief, about the 28 Fundamentals, about seven concise bullet points to a brighter spiritual life, and about getting our lives into perfect shape before we can even be baptised? Yet those things are all I've seen the Adventist church to offer (with exceptions).

Here I can respond to Trevan about different seasons of life, etc. You should consider the book "A Sacred Sorrow: Reaching Out to God in The Lost Language of Lament" by Michael Card. He addresses this very issue. How do we lament? How and where do we express our grief and sorrow? I've noticed that church (and this is addressed to the Protestant church as a whole) lacks theology, disciples, and language for times of grief, lament, pain, and also times of normalcy, ordinariness, and everyday. We have language for mountain-top experiences, and sometimes even for the valleys of death. But after we get through that intense moment, how on earth do we cope with actually LIVING through it all? It's not as if Christ ceases to be Immanuel just because our journey is flat, long, and heart-numbingly draining.

I pray that I haven't completely derailed the discussion away from the many, many other thoughts and comments that have already been shared.
Anonymous said…
Scott, you've got some deep thoughts here. You said, "I am just ITCHING to dive into church, to create a community that fosters healing and wholeness, to share the freedom that is our true identities in Christ. In my life and in past ministry, I am a healer. I am an artist (singer, designer, writer, photographer, liturgist) and I need to create a community safe for others like me."

My response is, what are you waiting for? The church is not a building or an institution. It's you, me, and the hurting people you're talking about. It's the body of Christ. You don't have to wait until you're called by some conference to take a church. Why not now? Why not in your family room or kitchen? Why not get together with some friends and other wounded souls and create this community of compassion you're talking about? Then, when God puts you in a formal church, do it there too.

Here's another thought about why the church often fails to live up to our expectations. It's because I think if we're all honest, "church" for us consists of 1 to 3 hours on a Sabbath morning and that's it. We've compartmentalized our lives and relegated our corporate religious communal experience to this one day a week for a few hours. And this is because that's all we're willing to give it. And frankly, that's too big a burden to put on the "church."

C'mon now. Let's be brutally honest here. Most of us don't give spirituality or the things of God any thought until Sabbath. The rest of the week we're consumed with work, leisure, friends, parties, making money, TV, kids, whatever. Then we come to church for an hour or two and expect it to meet all our needs--be a place of healing, social stimulation, spiritual renewal, community, etc. Then we go about our business again.

We're not opposed to a spiritual revival, as long as it comes within the time slots already set aside for such an experience. If it comes between 9:30 and Noon, fine. If it requires more, well, check with me after the newest episode of "Lost."

I'm not saying this is your experience, Scott. I'm just surveying the entire landscape of "church" out there, listening to the complaints (many of which are legit) and wondering how much of the problem is our own weak will and lackluster commitment.

Church should be a safe place for people to bleed in. In my own church we take no less that 15-20 minutes each week for congregational sharing of praises and prayer requests. This is "prime time" in our worship service as we seek to connect hearts to each other and to God. That's why we came. That's what church is for--to meet with God.

Let's keep talking.

Bulworth said…
As a lifelong SDA who's been enduring his own period of religious discontent, I appreciate the discussion here and inparticular, the comments from Scott and Randy. The open-ness and gentleness is refreshing.

I think Randy is right that a substantial part of the problem with "church" is its relegation to three hours on Saturday (this probably applies to sunday churches, too). The briefness of our church experience is compounded by the tendency to see church as an institution set up to basically boss us around. And the church probably sees itself in this way, too.

The combination is pretty toxic. It ends up not offering very much but demanding a lot.

And I'm still an SDA, probably for a number of reasons, but among them the sense that the grass isn't greener out there. In fact, it may be worse, much worse.

The "solution" if there is one is what I think Randy is emphasizing, and that is in having those of us burned out, unfulfilled members taking action within our given faith community and forming groups of like-minded searchers. If some form of group activities are already going on, we need to seek them out.

A lot of aspects of contemporary society probably don't help us or our churches much either--long commutes back and forth to work and the often spread-out-ness of where members live relative to the church.

trevan said…

Thanks for sharing. Not a derailment at all. Why not plant a "church?" that fits what you need and I'm sure fits the needs of a lot of people. I know that I have resonated with much of what you said.


Getting together with fellow travelers who are willing to be honest and vulnerable is key. There's nothing worse than being in church and feeling like there is no one you can trust and be honest with.
Anonymous said…
Sure there is a simply answer, not an easy answer, but New Covenant Theology takes care of an awful lot. Look it up on your browser. The Decalogue is not part of the 2nd Covenant, the NT states the standards or tenets of it. The current SDAs are tied up in Covenant Theology.

Anonymous said…
"C'mon now. Let's be brutally honest here. Most of us don't give spirituality or the things of God any thought until Sabbath. The rest of the week we're consumed with work, leisure, friends, parties, making money, TV, kids, whatever. Then we come to church for an hour or two and expect it to meet all our needs--be a place of healing, social stimulation, spiritual renewal, community, etc. Then we go about our business again."
I take a certain amount of offense to this statement. It is the old guilt trip. "If you are not getting enough out of Sabbath or church it is you fault." It is time to acknowledge that work, leisure, friends,... are all part of life and as such are all, or should be all spiritual, part of the very life we are to live. Those few hours spent in a choreographed program are somewhat of a faux life or a pagent that hopefully gives direction, comfort and healing. To be "brutally honest" I do go about my too busy week spiritually intentional and do for the most part find "church" undernourishing.
Dick Larsen
Anonymous said…
Bob-Deux makes a very good point. The only solution I have experienced to the very concerns Scott and Randy and Trevan defined is the literal fact of being born from above, indwelt by the Holy Spirit upon recognition of my deep hopelessness and my need to submit to Jesus' reconciliation of everything on earth and in heaven by the blood of His cross (Col 1:20).

Only in being willing to look at Jesus and the law through new lenses is it possible to see there is hope. I have found startling fellowship in a church with others who may not share all theological understanding with me, but they literally know Jesus.

It's not about a program or methods. It's about discarding the analysis of form and embracing the forgiveness of Jesus at the foot of the cross. This humbling act changes everything. It resolves the angst and delivers deep peace. Letting go of the intellectual dissection of soteriology and theology and embracing Jesus as revealed directly in His word is the literal (not metaphorical) answer. To paraphrase Michael Card, it's amazing the freedom we find from the things we leave behind—even when those things are the beliefs and practices we most loved, in favor of our standing broken and hopeless before the risen Christ.

It's not even about "sharing". Sharing outside an environment leveled by the blood of Jesus is just a support group—and while support groups provide catharsis, they often do not lead to lasting healing. Jesus requires us to surrender our identities—and He gives us new ones: no longer depraved, but eternally alive in Him. He replaces all our beliefs and cherished practices with Himself.

As Bob-Deux said, it's not an easy answer—but it is a simple answer. And it is real.

Richard said…
Trevan, your observations are right on. Because the gospel is incarnational (see my post on the incarnation gospel here), it will always be relevant to every society in every age. My own irrelevance is not the gospel’s irrelevance. Adventism is no longer incarnational in much of contemporary society. We can attribute this to its modernistic emphasis on believing and behaving over belonging (or some other equation). The question remains, what does the gospel contribute to contemporary society? What of the old incarnation of the gospel must Adventists be willing to give up in order to be relevant here and now? Continuing to focus our efforts apologetically on old formulations of doctrine will railroad us straight into irrelevance. If you don’t understand where I’m coming form, read my post on the incarnation.
Anonymous said…
To Dick Larsen, Most SDAs don't understand Hebrews 4.

Heb 4:7 Therefore God again set a certain day, calling it Today, when a long time later he spoke through David, as was said before:
"Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts." 8For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. 9There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; 10for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. 11Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.

God has given us the ability to have His rest, not every 7 days but "Today" if I bow my head, and if I am right with him, accepted His Gospel. To suggest every seven days is how God had to deal with the "CHILDREN" of Israel.

The New or 2nd Covenant is not about a day, 24 hour period, but Christ, His death, and eternity.

Scott A. said…
Roylin, thanks for your comments. I'm going to grapple with them a bit. Please know that I agree with and appreciate your statements about the centrality of Christ and new birth in the Spirit to all of this.

Roylin writes, "To paraphrase Michael Card, it's amazing the freedom we find from the things we leave behind—even when those things are the beliefs and practices we most loved, in favor of our standing broken and hopeless before the risen Christ."

I think that part of what we're discussing (maybe even a big part) is proceeding from freedom in Christ. When we find freedom in Christ, born again in the Spirit, and look around at the church community we currently inhabit and has come to be family... how do we do church?

This isn't just an Adventist, New Covenant vs. Old Covenant issue. The same questions about relevance and proclaiming Christ and being church are wrestled with by most of Protestantism (if not all of Christendom). I attend seminary where over 100 denominations attend campus worship. Additionally, I haven't yet met someone at this seminary who isn't insanely, passionately sold-out for Jesus. We're *all* dealing with similar issues.

The beautiful birth and growth Roylin shares is both the solution AND the starting point. All of our problems are indeed solved in Christ, but then there is a whole life in Christ that needs to be walked.

Roylin, you write "It's about discarding the analysis of form and embracing the forgiveness of Jesus at the foot of the cross." May I push that statement a little further to ask a question? How does embracing Christ change, renew, and indeed subvert those forms? What happens when a program is humbled before the Holy Spirit? How does the Spirit move through our forms?

Some forms won't work, new wine in old wineskins and all. I think that's a major part of this Adventist crisis. I know so many Adventists who do drink the new wine, and thus find they don't fit the old wineskins anymore. Trevan's observation of the crisis wrestles with the fact in the past, all attempts to deal with this have been doctrinal, propositional, controlling, and FAR from relational and incarnational. (Trevan, I hope I'm not putting words into your mouth, here).
Anonymous said…
Scott, this may not be about Old and New Covenants, but what are the SDAs two unique doctrines they hang on to so "relentlessly". The IJ and the Sabbath.

This is a reflection on how they view the cross, and its worth relative to the strength held of the other doctrines.

Notice this SDA Senate Chaplain, Barry Black's difference from 2004 to today on Jesus name in public. Yes, I know, he has to appear non-sectarian, but he could have passed the job up on principle, and declared Jesus as loudly as he did in 2004:

now look at this 2004 communication with Coral Ridge Ministries:

And notice the fuss the Adventist Review has made about his "uncompromising but cooperative" position.

I also agree, after sitting through an SDA worship service that spilled over the 11 o'clock hour with "investment ideas" when the worship hour should have been respected. We don't need to be entertained, but we should have quality music that reflect the dignity of our God.

Alot of Baptist and Presbyterians put us to shame with regard to "worship time".

erica said…
i think one of the problems is pastors... i dont mean to offend any of you ministers... but from what i have experienced, i see a lot of power hungry pastoring which maybe subconsciously breeds weak church members.
and what i mean by weak church members is the type of adventist that completely relies on the pastor and the sabbath service for their spirituality, as someone had posted above me.
i agree that we rely too much on our pastors and church leaders in general.. but for the members to do more on their own time and in their own lives the leadership should inspire that.
there is a new pastor in the church i have attended since birth, and i have seen things in the last year that i've never seen before in this church. people that have always been benchwarmers since i can remember, are leading small groups. so many members are stepping up to help in church activities and also in starting up their own things in their homes and inviting other members to attend...
and i believe that this amazing and miraculous change has happened because God is working in a very powerful way through my pastor, and the pastor is not taking a super authoritative role... he is empowering the members more than anything, and it is truly a beautiful thing to watch... an inspiring transformation.

and one more reason why i think this may be relative to the discussion is that many of the young adults that had left the church (including me) are back in it now, and not just sitting in the pews, but working and acting and praising... so it has definately worked in the church i attend...
Was it about 1990 that all this worry about the "crisis of the youth leaving the church" began to enter the literature of the church? The fact is that Adventism is built on puritan principles which actually clash with the natural inclinations of 99% of living people. I'm just fortunate/cursed that they aren't intolerable to me even though I personally hold zero of the "essential" Adventist beliefs.
Anonymous said…
Responding to the Cultural Adventist and your comment that Adventism is based on principles which actually clash with the natural inclinations of 99% of living people. Again, I wonder if we haven't all lost our grip on what it means to be a Christian--what the radical demands of Jesus were for those who follow Him and become citizens of His kingdom. It's not that "Adventism" clashes with the natural inclinations of everybody, it's that Christianity is at odds with this world's value system. It is a cultural war. The kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of this world are diametrically opposed to one another and therein lies the clash. I'm preaching a series on the Sermon on the Mount and it is obvious that Jesus is issuing a radical call for His followers to be different from the world. Read it again and check it out. Adventism has it's unique cultural oddities that clash with the wider culture, but nothing compared to the counter-cultural principles of the Kingdom. Do we need to reflect and examine the legitimate claims of Christ and whether or not we really want to be Christians at all?

Ramone said…
Wow, I'm surprised to find friends from different parts of the country (and of my life) converging on the same blog, let alone the same topic!

Let me say quickly that I agree with Greg, Scott, and Bob_Deux. Each has mentioned a different "front" of the battle. Scott has mentioned the common Protestant resistance to allowing the Holy Spirit to change the way we "do church".

Bob & Greg's "front", however, strikes at a core problem in Adventism: what to do with the historical foundation of the denomination, especially since it clashes with the Gospel. Shall we read it with one eye closed? Shall we rationalize it away and say this doesn't mean what it says? The answer, I believe, is simply to cast it off and cling to the Bible alone. We need nothing other than Jesus Christ. Our identity only needs to be in Him. That is wonderful "rest" indeed! We can find our special calling & uniqueness in Him -- He is our special One, He is the unique One. The Good News in Adventism can finally not be about *us* and what we have to offer that others don't, but rather it can finally be the Gospel once & for all entrusted to the saints.

What Scott wrote of doesn't seem to immediately converge on this point, since Protestant churches suffer from the same problems that Scott mentioned. However, the Holy Spirit is also named "The Spirit of Truth". When you allow Him to come in and adjust things to how He likes, He's going to push your comfort zones in more ways than one. I think most churches are comfortable with the Spirit moving in *established* ways. Some few Adventist churches are even open to the gifts of the Spirit (etc.), but the historical Adventist foundation is off-limits. Should the Spirit begin to suggest that we only need to rest in Christ for our identity, He might be told to stay in His place.

In sum, the freedoms of the Spirit that Scott mentioned indeed ought to be embraced & explored by Adventist churches. However, if the bitter root is not weeded out of the foundation, then people will still be unsure of their salvation. If they can still pick up EGW books off the church shelf and learn from "a continuing and authoritative source of truth" that they must --by keeping the Law-- stand perfect before God without an intercessor, then their understanding of the Gospel and the power of the blood of Jesus Christ will be confused. The authority of the "Spirit of Prophecy" will serve to continue the confusion perpetually, being passed down from one generation to the next, unable to let it go for fear of damaging our identity & name.

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