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The Advent Struggle -- Part 2

There's been a lot of excellent discussion on the previous post. I've stayed out of it for the most part to let everyone else let their thoughts be known. I thought I would write another post explaining my thoughts in a little more detail.

There has been some discussion over this issue of style versus theology (At least at the very beginning). I think I might have used that terminology and I want to clarify that I reject the false dichotomy of style VERSUS theology because our style and methodologies REVEAL our theology. The methods we use to present a message tends to reveal as much about the message as the message itself.

In no way do I believe that all young adults want praise music, full band, nice lyric graphics projected, etc. However, I think that the 90% (no real data just a guesstimate) of Adventist churches who think of that worship style as being from the devil reveals one of the major issues at the heart of the crisis -- The Adventist response to culture.

The traditional stances on lifestyle issues are not withstanding the test of time and frankly they should not. In fact, it's these very stands which have been a cause for skepticism about the entire Adventist package. Some of the lifestyle "truths" which most young adults reject include:

1. The movie theater is an evil place.
2. There is something inherently wrong with jazz, rock, hip hop, etc music.
3. It's wrong to play cards.
4. Any form of party is sinful.
5. Playing on any competitive sport team is wrong.

I'm sure there is more that I'm leaving out but I think those represent some of the key lifestyle stands that simply do not resonate with the majority of us. When these lifestyle issue are elevated to the level of doctrine, as they often have, it immediately calls into question the entire package. It leads young adults to believe that Adventism is a cultural relic of the past with no relevance in today's world. While the above guidance might have been culturally relevant in the past, today's context calls for new approaches on these issues. We don't greet each other with holy kisses, wear head coverings to pray, or go to a city to witness with no money or food and rely on people helping us as was instructed in the Bible. Why not? We've had to do the hard work of contextualization and found that new approaches were necessary. It doesn't diminish the inspiration of the guidance for that time but is simply the result of our living incarnationally in 2007.

I guess that leaves us with the question: Can Adventism survive while changing it's traditional stands on lifestyle issues that have been a major part of Adventist culture? My guess: If it can't, Adventism will be relegated to the history books.


j said…

Theological conversations will continue after we're gone. I'm sure that in the fullness of time with the coming of Christ truth will be revealed but we're not there yet.

Lifestyle standards will continue to change as they have in the past. Our current discussion on music styles has many analogs in past conversations.

When it comes to things that divide us, there really is nothing new under the son.

What then is it that will keep us alive and relevant?

Perhaps our focus on problems and solutions is, well, unfocused. We miss the point. This conversation on the Adventism of the past, present and future is never-ending.

Indeed the only constant is that we're in conversation.

Understanding that we'll always be in conversation on said issues perhaps our focus should be on creating an Adventism that is comfortable being in conversation with itself.

Rick Rice nailed it on the head in Believing, Behaving Belonging.

How to create a sustainable community in, and through, conversation is indeed our number one problem. And being that as persons and groups we are continually in progress, creating community is also our solution!

Anonymous said…
I really do think our "methodologies reveal our theology". We see this whole ministry of Jesus where he over and over is saying and demonstrating that what God is calling for is the same that the prophets called for, justice and mercy. So when we look at our church services what do they say about how we relate to people and how we view God. What does it mean to teach that when we walk into the lecture hall in a church, we say we have come into God's House or into His Presence? What does that say about our theology.
Another life style phrase that comes up less frequently now is "Dress Reform". What ever does it even mean anymore. Or "Health Reform"?
As Johnny said "When it comes to things that divide us, there really is nothing new under the son." It all comes down to our view of God.
Anonymous said…
That last comment was from me, Dick Larsen
Anonymous said…
Due to issues with the local SDA church that I won't bore you with, more administrative than theological, I have been since 1995 attending a reformed church, a Presbyterian Church of America church. They have their issues, but the Gospel is preached pretty purely, and the 11:00 worship hour is respected, if you aren't in the pew, it starts with out you. I mean a worship service, not a lot of parochial announcements, but worship to God. I have only seen that attitude in a few SDA churches.

Also, going to a funeral in an SDA church recently, given the above abscence, I had culture shock with more EGW being quoted than Scripture. That needs to change, if we are to be an effective witness.

Even the reformed brethern don't quote Calvin like we quote EGW. However, the Westminister Confession is almost treated as part of the canon of Scripture. Tough for me to accept that people in 1650 had it more right than we do, and that there isn't need for progressive, not liberal, thinking.

Bulworth said…
"It all comes down to our view of God."

I think this is right. Many of the lifestyle issues were constructed with an attitude that God needed to be appeased by our behavior, and that he was easily offended.

I don't happen to believe that is the case. I think God has a pretty thick skin. It should be more a question of whether what we do or how we worship connects us to God or not, makes God real to us or not.

Richard said…
Trevan, I've learned from politics that the framing of an issue is 90% of its strength. To use Adventist terms, the "truth" is one thing. But how we approach that "truth" is 90% of our theology (i.e. the Sabbath: a day on which not to anger God or day of rest?). The Adventist pathology of "morality" and "standards" falls into this trap of framing. If morality is framed as something we owe to God, we end up with "no theater" rules. If it is framed as something God gives us, we end up with more flexible standards with the view of really improving life. Could some Adventists possibly benefit from a great party, a good movie, or a game of cards? Lord forbid! (I'm being sarcastic, in case you didn't catch it).
dpm said…
Trevan---I enjoyed reading your 2 previous posts and the replies. Re: your last question about Adventism surviving... you know, I think that is at the root of many of our church's problems. So much of the rhetoric, energy and focus is on Adventism and its survival, that I believe that is precisely why so many of us are turned off by the whole experience.
I honestly refuse to spend the rest of my life ensuring that the Adventist church---the institution and organizational denomination---survives. If it keeps holding on to itself instead of reaching out to seekers and the "disenfranchised" (the group of us who grew up in it but feel that it's irrelevant, etc.) then it might as well just lay down and die.
I'm much more interested in encouraging and facilitating ways for my born-and-bred Christian friends to really encounter Christ and develop a meaningful, personal devotional life. I could care less if they ever even hear the 28 fundamentals. To borrow an SDA phrase, "Time is too short" to be screwing around figuring out how to maintain and sustain an organization. Real people out there just want/need Jesus.
I could go on and on about what's wrong with our church and why the only reason I show up every week is to support my pastor husband, but that wouldn't fix anything...

Maybe you should find a way for disenfranchised SDAs to hook up and find each other in different parts of the country to start small groups and house churches. That would scare the higher-ups a little bit...maybe they would take this thing seriously instead of just forming another committee (which is their default response to deal with any "issue".)
Anonymous said…
Cluesy, that comment was so honest it was smoking. Dick Larsen
Anonymous said…
Pastor Greg, A lot of them still don't. Maybe when I have grandchildren? Dick Larsen
Bulworth said…
Cluesy said:

"Re: your last question about Adventism surviving... you know, I think that is at the root of many of our church's problems. So much of the rhetoric, energy and focus is on Adventism and its survival, that I believe that is precisely why so many of us are turned off by the whole experience.
I honestly refuse to spend the rest of my life ensuring that the Adventist church---the institution and organizational denomination---survives."

I think Cluesy is right here. Much of Adventism's existential angst is over itself as an institution. The "crisis" Adventism faces is its tranformance from transient instrument to eternal institution. In the case of the former, the church is a means to an end; in the latter, the church begins to see itself as an end to itself--much like every other religious denomination.

Scott A. said…
Richard wrote:
"The Adventist pathology of "morality" and "standards" falls into this trap of framing. If morality is framed as something we owe to God, we end up with "no theater" rules. If it is framed as something God gives us, we end up with more flexible standards with the view of really improving life."

I've wondered and worried sometimes that as Adventists we've missed out on Christ as our righteousness in our rush to stand up for truth and morality. There's a famous (I gather) quote of EGW's that really shows this:

"The greatest want of the world is the want of men[...] men who do not fear to call sin by its right name [...] men who will stand for the right[.]" (Edited for brevity and emphasis.)

Now, I realise that this isn't an official Adventist call-to-arms, but it is indicative of an attitude to divisively claim truth and judge morality when, really, we just need to be with those who are "other" or those who drink or dance or theatre-hop. The greatest want of the world is not people who will take a side or call out "Sinner!"... the greatest want of the world is Jesus Christ, God with us, whom so we so often miss because we set ourselves apart instead of with. We end up as the standard for morality and behaviour -- not Christ.

Check out this Shane and Shane song for a great commentary about cultural standards, morality, and our need to get things right for God.

God Did. (link to full lyrics)
"Could it be that morality/Got the best of you and me/Got us thinking/That we’re on the brink/Of a drink of the cup/that’s all filled up/With the cross havin’ even a little to do with us"
Scott A. said…
Glenn and Cluesy wrote about the institutional Adventist church. Isn't it funny that a radical movement deeply and utter opposed to oppressive and stultified institution (and even against creedal belief, egad!) has become one of the most highly organised and institutionalised denominations in Christendom?

I remember conversations in college over somewhat-iffy cafeteria food about encouraging an Adventist movement over an Adventist church... to be a movement within the larger body of Christ. I remember a conversation recently over much better food with a friend tossing out the idea of being an "Adventist Episcopalian" or an "Adventist Quaker" or even, ultimately, a plain and simple "Adventist Christian."
Scott A. said…
And one last thought before bed (thank God it's Sabbath now!).

How do we (all of us ministers in Christ) reach out to those people who have been hurt by the Adventist crisis? Those who have been wounded deeply by Adventist standards? I met a woman this last weekend who had been traumatically, spiritually abused by the Adventist church in her teens. She's now agnostic, has all manner of worldly creature comforts, and is obviously still hurting. But she wants nothing to do with anything associated with Adventism -- and sadly, that includes Jesus and God.

Where there's a crisis, there's bound to be some damage. How do we deal with that? What if someone was to learn that "Oh, we're different now. We can eat chicken on Sabbath and go into theatres." Would they really come back?

I'm kinda torn... these cultural issues seem so very superficial to me. However, the way our church has handled them has been painful. I guess I'm sorta repeating Trevan's question of "What to do?"

And if Adventism survives, will it really be better? or if it falls, will we really have something to offer those we pushed away?
Anonymous said…
Niebuhr wrote that all religious movements go through four stages, the four Ms.
1. Man--A charismatic leader starts a new group, for Adventists, Joseph Bates, James and Ellen White.
2. Movement--As it meets people's needs it becomes movement. It grows. We even published a book called "Movement of Destiny."
3. Machine--It continues to grow and develops structure, policies, rules, standards, etc so everything runs like a well oiled machine.
4. Monument--As the group matures it becomes stagnant, settled in its ways and rather than reform and change it looks to the past and wishes for the good all days.

Adventism in North America is slipping into the fourth stage. In other parts of the world it is still in stage 3. This is why it is so hard to change because different areas of the world see the church from very different viewpoints.

So how do we change? It must begin at the local level, the local church. At New Hope in Fulton, MD we are slowing changing into a very progressive post modern congregation. The traditional lifestyle issues listed in some of the posts are NON issues at New Hope.

Of course you have to have a very supportive conference administration which we do in the Chesapeake conference. If some of you are curious check out out web site

We are still on our journey. I am still praying and studying to keep the tension between the best that Adventism has to offer and at the same time be relevant to the culture we are in.

Partly as a result New Hope now has one of the highest attendances of young adults in the Washington area. Our median age is 26 (out of 804) while the median age of the Adventist church in the US is 58 and in the population it is 36.

We don't have all the answers at New Hope but we are determined to reach lost people for Jesus doing whatever it takes without compromising the gospel
Trevor Durbin said…
All successful, long lasting, religions utilize proven faith maintenance technologies. Since you have a link to the TED talks on your blog, you may have listened to Daniel Dennett's talk about "The Purpose Driven Life." He introduces the subject there.

I really don't think the Church is in anything like a crisis. However, if it were, I would suggest a "copy cat" approach. Do what the successful churches do--omit the outdated material and give the other stuff a facelift. Incorporating a healthy dose of secular culture also couldn't hurt. After all, this is how Christianity has become what it is today. Why not stick with a winning strategy?
trevan said…
Wow, 18 comments and I haven't responded to any. I apologize. I've been reading and enjoying all of them but just haven't responded. Of course, I do take a hands-off approach to commenting. Just a few thoughts.

I think Cluesy raised an excellent point. We can't spend our efforts trying to make sure the institution survives. However, I would say that while this shouldn't be our primary concern, the state of the institution in many ways reflects how well we are doing as local churches. Granted the institution is a greater monster than my little church in VA but it still reflects it and so I do have to be concerned with it on a certain level.

I'll respectfully disagree with Pastor Greg. Of the issues I raised, I will not enforce those rules on my kids. Certainly, I will help them make good choices when it comes to music, movies, parties, etc but to pretend that all of them are wrong in and of themselves only hurts their view of God and Adventism.

Scott, you raise an excellent point of what to do with those who have been burned by the abuse of these standards. I think that is what saddens me the most. It has turned people off not just to Adventism but to God altogether. I think encouraging spirituality outside an institutional church is probably step one.
Anonymous said…
The Adventist Church is in a crisis in the United States. If it not for immigrant baptism our church would actually be in decline. I'd say that qualifies for a crisis. Monte Sahlin will be releasing the evidence in an article in the July August issue of Adventist Today.
Anonymous said…
Don't limit the crisis to the Adventist church. The truth is, Christianity in the U.S. is stagnant and pulls down global church growth stats. Post-modernism has a lot to do with that, but so does a lukewarm, materialistic, comfortable-with-the-prevailing-culture church. In all our discussion here about irrelevance, style, standards, institutionalism, etc., I'm missing talk about the essence of the Gospel. Yes, Jesus is Immanuel--God with us. I praise Him for His desire to be with me. His love for me. His acceptance of Me. (Notice how much of "me" was in those last sentences? That's part of the problem of Western Christianity--very "me" focused.) But God being with me is only part of the Gospel. The other, equally radical part is God IN me. God changing me, transforming me into an entirely new creature in Christ. The new God-man or God-woman that results lives a Kingdom life that brings life, hope, health, healing, and deliverance to a dying world. The crisis is that we're missing our mission. Or to use Rick Warren terms, we're missing our purpose.

Gandhi, while fighting against apartheid as a lawyer in South Africa, had this to say to the Dutch Reformed Church: "When you Christians live the life of your Master, all India will bow down to Christianity. Until then, please don't bring the gospel to India. I've seen enough of it here."

Perhaps the real crisis we face is when, if ever, are we going to live the life of our Master.

trevan said…

I'll respond to this comment and also your last one on the previous post.

There is no doubt that Jesus calls us to be counter-cultural. I believe this strongly and hope that I live that way. However, I also want to make sure the my counter-cultural ways are actually the ways of Jesus. I don't think the issues I've raised are rooted in seeking to live out the counter-cultural way of Jesus. I don't want to suggest that we accommodate to culture because it's natural but we also need to be careful about the ways we seek to be counter cultural.

You're right, we need to have Christ in us and transforming our lives. The Ghandi quote is powerful. I just don't think that not going to the theater, playing cards, etc is what will be the result of God living in us.
Anonymous said…
Trevan, thanks for your comments. What will be the result of God living in us? Let's spend some energy on that question. Not playing cards or going to the theater? Small potatoes. Let's talk about death to self. Let's talk about esteeming others as better than ourselves. Let's talk about being consumed with a passion for the lost. Let's talk about death to racial prejudice and truly loving each other as God commanded us. Let's talk about living by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. And how about "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Rom. 12:2).

I think if we spend some energy looking at what God IN us means--what Kingdom life is and how we live it on a daily basis, some of these other things (how we choose to entertain ourselves) will take care of themselves. We'll be too busy living the life and love of God. Too busy being salt and light. Too busy "turning the world upside down."
trevan said…

Totally agree with you. I think the big problem is that we've taught that the things I've mentioned are the heart of God living in us. However, they're not and focusing on those are keeping us from truly experiencing the Kingdom.
trevan said…

I really understand where you are coming from. I definitely don't believe in a "rule-less" Adventism or parenting style. You're right that there will always be opposition to stands we take which should challenge us to make sure they are biblical stands and promote the kingdom of God. However, when they aren't biblical, kingdom promoting rules they do much more damage than good.
Anonymous said…
Do most SDAs want to take on the personal responsibility for others actions. I have heard SDAs refer to other Adventists as Advent-ish and suggests their arms-length relationship with them.

Most SDAs I knew when closer associated, didn't have a relationship with God as much as a list they ticked off of what they did relative to the the Church's do's and don'ts.

trevan said…

I'm not sure I'm following you in terms of the drinking and doing kingdom promoting that wouldn't be biblical. Explain?


I'm sure there are Adventists who are like those you mentioned just as there are also many that don't have those attitudes. I also probably think that all Christian denominations breed those kind of Christians as well so it's not strictly an Adventist problem but a larger issue with the Christian religion.
trevan said…

I'm with you and I thought that was your point but just wanted to be sure.

I guess this is where we would argue that we are using Biblical principles and not necessarily a literal yes or no answer on every situation we face in life. In the end, it all comes down to interpretation, even if there seems to be a clear, definitive answer from Scripture.

I think we need to be honest about the fact that the Bible does not clearly answer all the dilemmas we face today. I dislike the way we end up proof-texting to try and answer all of our situations with a "thus saith the Lord." Could we be honest and say, "The Bible is not clear on this but as a community we will do or not do ___________ because of "x,y,z." The "x,y,z" would be based on biblical principles and other valid reasons for it.
Anonymous said…

I think you’re focusing on the wrong problem. I feel like many of the “do not’s” that Adventist kids/grown-ups have come to hate just let you know that you have a problem, but don’t offer solutions. Usually, the deeper problem isn’t even mentioned in the rule.

For example:

I use to dress a lot more provocatively than I do now. I wasn’t trying to be rebellious or get attention or anything, I was just mirroring what was considered “cute and sexy” by my friends and TV or whatever. I knew what the rule was, because I didn’t dress like that around my parents or church members. Having the rule (just like having the Law) is not what I needed. The deeper problem was I didn’t have any idea how I was being viewed by guys until I read Every Young Woman’s Battle. Now, for some other girl, the deeper problem may be a need to feel valued, which could translate into trying to get attention any way possible. A blanket “thou shalt not” rule is not going to fix her problem or mine, because the deeper problem is something different for both of us.

Another example:

I use to be a horribly aggressive driver. Now various friends and family members have made comments such as “dude if you keep speeding, you’re gonna get a huge fine one of these days.” I obviously knew the law and the punishment. What finally made me stop was when I read a book on uprooting anger from a Biblical viewpoint. The root cause of the problem was anger, not my utter disregard for traffic laws.

Getting to know each person and understanding why someone is using meth or having an affair or whatever and once the root problem is defined, helping the person find God’s answers to that problem is the only way. Now it’s not the the pastor’s sole responsibility to be every person’s personal shrink. Take Moses’ father-in-law’s advice and use church elders and lay pastors to help. Foster small groups where people can open up and explore Scriptures to convict them of changes that need to be made in their lives.

The pastor’s responsibility is to give tools to help each person’s personal relationship with God. Each person is responsible for their own relationship with God, but without the church, it’s so easy to get sidetracked, because you don’t have anyone to be accountable to. That’s my reason for continuing to go to my church. I have accountability partners there and they’re my friends and they’re gentle but stern in their guidance! They listen and care. They can’t judge me because they have shared their problems with me, so we all know that we’re sinners. We hold each other as we seek God’s grace. We search Scripture for God’s guidance in how to solve our problems and how to live. But if I went to a church where I could not be vulnerable and share my problems with others, there would be no value. This is why acceptance and a sense of belonging is so important.
Anonymous said…

I'm barely out of my teen years (and yes that's still more than a few years from a high school freshman... and I guess girls tend to mature faster than guys) and I remember that the biggest obstacle I had from taking advice or even listening to an adult when I was that age was trust more than the capability to understand abstract thought. Both the examples I gave in my previous comment about dressing less provocatively and being a better driver... the person who was instrumental in the change was my boyfriend, not an adult. I was willing to listen to my boyfriend because he knew the environment I was in, he knew what I was going through, so even though a lot of what he said was similar to stuff my parents had said, I had dismissed my parents' advice as not relevant. "My parents obviously didn't know what I was going through, so their advice can't apply to my situation." It's about getting to know a person before sharing the gospel. It's about getting to know someone's situation before offering advice. Unfortunately, from personal experience, it takes a lot more time and patience on an adult's part to convince a teenage that the adult understands the situation and will not break his trust by telling the teenager's parents and will not freak out if the teenager says or is doing something that's not inline with God. I remember I use to test how much I can tell my parents by telling them something small and if they freak out with the small thing, then there's no way I'm telling them the big thing.

So what's a pastor or some other caring adult to do? Encourage a church setting that allows for people to get accountability partners? I'm not sure... I know that everytime I sit down with a group of 8-10 year old girls and it's just us, the girls just start talking and sharing. I just have to provide a safe place and make sure I never share anything they tell me without their permission. It's also easier for the girls to relate to another female who is only twice their age. Also, that group of girls started with one girl and has now grown because she told her friends. I think I'm suggesting structural changes that may require volunteers your church may not have, but I can't think of anything else that has worked for me.
Anonymous said…
Pastor Greg,

Teens do trust their peers more than anyone else, but that doesn't mean that they won't take advice from adults if they trust the adult or at least look to adults that they're interested in (after all, Brad and Angelina are adults :). Teens may have the hardest time listening to their parents, but you're not their parent... you're their pastor, so you already have passed one hurdle. You can't expect change overnight... trust building takes time. Does your church have other teenagers who are strong in God who could mentor to other kids? If you know that teens trust other teens, why not use godly teens to help out? I know that Sligo SDA church in Takoma Park was able to turn around their youth group through the help of high school and college age youth leaders.
Anonymous said…
I have done surveys on the attitudes of Adventist members about music and less than a third think that Contemporary Christian music should not be used in worship. Another quarter say they would like to have CCM for worship music. The other half is undecided.

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