Updated: July 9, 2024

 

The Real End of the World

by Lindsey Abston Painter  |  9 July 2024  |   

It’s pretty common in Adventist churches to hear about the world ending. Preachers or evangelists talk about things that they think are going to snowball into an end-time crisis. Their examples usually have to do with big conspiracies focused on Seventh-day Adventists and our beliefs.

But there’s better and more immediate evidence that the world could be ending soon. God doesn’t need to do it: we’re doing just fine destroying it ourselves. 

Climate change.

NASA warns that the effects of climate change are here, and will only become worse in the future. The article says, 

“Some changes (such as droughts, wildfires, and extreme rainfall) are happening faster than scientists previously assessed. In fact, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — the United Nations body established to assess the science related to climate change — modern humans have never before seen the observed changes in our global climate, and some of these changes are irreversible over the next hundreds to thousands of years.”

We need to find some way to overcome the bias in our brains that tells us to ignore the threat this poses to us. And that includes those of us in the church. 

One of God’s first commands to humanity, in Genesis 1:26-30, was to take care of the earth. Let’s take a look at the things God told us to take care of. 

Fish 

And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea…

Assuming this passage means all fish, as well as all ocean, lake, and river wildlife, climate change has already drastically affected all things living in the waters of this world. In some cases, warming waters lead to a significant decline in wildlife species that live in the deeper, colder parts of bodies of water. In shallower water, whole regions of coral reefs are dying. The decline of these species affects the ecological balance, which can lead to a decline in all the species, or an overpopulation of a species that is usually prey to fish in decline. 

In other cases, fish and plant life are being found in places they don’t usually reside. In the five American Great Lakes, for example, non-native and invasive species such as the alewife and zebra mussels have caused major disruptions to the native fish populations. In the local lake close to my house there are periodic warnings every few years against swimming or even going into the water because of an overpopulation of algae. This has been going on for years, a result of the slow warming of the waters in the lake. 

Birds 

And let them have dominion over … the birds of the heavens…

Birds have already been so heavily impacted by climate change that the Audubon Society has a website dedicated to documenting the effects. You can search in your county or by bird to see how birds near you are affected. Already, hundreds of species of birds have been forced to relocate to more favorable areas, and many of them are not surviving the change. Nearly 150 species are already on the brink of extinction. 

Livestock

And let them have dominion over … the livestock…

The National Library of Medicine sums up the impact of climate change: 

“There is strong evidence that there will be impacts throughout the supply chain, from farm production to processing operations, storage, transport, retailing and human consumption. The risks of climate-related impacts are highly context-specific but expected to be higher in environments that are already hot and have limited socio-economic and institutional resources for adaptation.” 

In other words, with the worldwide food supply chain’s probable disruption we can expect famine and starvation in the near future, especially in areas of the world that are hot and poor. 

Not an especially bright future for any of us who like food. 

Bugs

And let them have dominion over … every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.

NASA warns us that an estimated 65% of the world’s insect population might become extinct in the next few years. If you’re like me (not a big insect fan), you might not initially feel too ruffled about that. 

But the problem looks a lot more dire when we realize that insects are an enormous part of the world’s food chain. The NASA website also notes, 

“Insects perform many important roles in Earth’s ecosystems. They assist with the production of fruits, vegetables, and flowers through pollination. They decompose organic matter. They even help control harmful pests.”

Plants

Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed….

The Environmental Protection Agency warns that the agriculture industry has already faced many serious difficulties as a result of climate change, with more to come. Decreases in productivity, and changes in the seasons when things can grow, make it difficult for farmers to know when to plant and how long they can expect to cultivate their crops. Not to mention the changes in water availability mean drought for some and flooding for others which kills crops and erodes nutrients from the soil. 

More and more pesticides are required to control invasive insect species, which leads to the death of more helpful insects, like bees—and isn’t great for human consumption either, not to mention the health risks to the farmers themselves who are exposed to pesticides. 

Fruit trees

Behold, I have given you … every tree with seed in its fruit. 

A science journal dealing with frontiers in plant science warns that fruit trees are threatened by climate change. Warmer temperatures are causing trees to flower erratically, sometimes too soon, only for their delicate flowers to be damaged by frost. Fruiting trees are designed to lie dormant during the cold season. Trees that are budding earlier than usual, or budding erratically, are more vulnerable, leading to what the journal calls “reduced tree vigor,” as well as “bud break disorder.” I’m not a plant scientist, but that doesn’t sound good for the future of fruit. 

Our first—failed—responsibility

It appears that the first responsibility God gave us, we appear to have failed. 

Christians spend an awful lot of time talking about upholding God’s expectations, usually when it comes to people’s sex lives or sexual organs. The ironic thing is that God had relatively little to say about people’s sex lives or sexual organs. But God had an awful lot to say about taking care of the vulnerable, and almost as much about caretaking the earth. 

Unfortunately, I have no idea what to do about climate change. And that’s part of the problem. Very few people actually have any constructive ideas about what to do about it. There aren’t easy answers. There’s no single villain to unite us against. Our perspective on climate change depends on our personal biases. 

The Guardian says that 80% of greenhouse gas emissions are linked to just 57 companies. So while I’m not a scientist, I’d propose we start by asking that world governments regulate those 57 companies to reduce or eliminate emissions. 

What I do know is that continuing to ignore the imminent cessation of all human, animal, and plant life on planet Earth is something we should all be paying more attention to. That means we need to talk about it. We need to think about it. We need to write about it. We need to pressure powerful people to do something about it. And as a faith community we should be using our influence to make change. 

If Adventists won’t listen to the scientists, and won’t listen to Genesis, perhaps they’d hear the word of John the Revelator?

“Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God” (Revelation 7:3).

Yes, earth-care is part of the prophetic message. The seal, however you describe it, hasn’t been placed yet, and we are ordered to care for the earth while we wait. 

I wish that would become a major part of the Seventh-day Adventist message.


Lindsey Abston Painter is an adjunct editor of Adventist Today.

 

 

There’s a reason it’s called Adventist Today.

Most Adventists understand that we no longer live in the nineteenth or twentieth centuries. The fact that we live in the twenty-first century makes it absolutely essential that we plant ourselves firmly in the present and accept today’s realities.

Yes, we once had a prophetic voice. We embraced social causes such as abolition, temperance, church/state separation, education, healthcare. Sometimes we stood alone; sometimes we were ahead of our time (Sabbath rest, addictions, and plant-based diets). But in these and many other issues we are no longer unique.

In fact, the thing some Adventists are most proud of—our interpretation of prophecy—is laughably outdated. While evangelists still rant against the Papacy, apostate Protestantism and Sunday worship, a more dangerous and insidious threat infects society. Ironically, the threat is still religious in nature, motivated by those intent on forcing their beliefs on everyone else.

We used to naively believe that our Bibles would be taken from us. Now books in schools and libraries are being banned. Religious zealots are taking over school boards, county councils, state legislatures, and courts. Bent on imposing their religious and moral values on the rest of us, some states are mandating that the Bible be taught and the Ten Commandments be posted in public schools.

People who don’t understand that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” can’t be expected to understand that freedom of religion means freedom for all religions, even freedom from religion. They can’t be expected to understand that coercion is coercion, and that it’s all the more dangerous when motivated by “good intentions.”

That’s why we call it Adventist Today. As we face new challenges, your support and sharing of Adventist Today is essential in reaching a contemporary society with the eternal gospel.

Stephen Chavez
Adjunct Editor, Adventist Today
6 July 2024

 

 

The Wrong Way to Preach the Gospel

 

by Loren Seibold  |  28 June 2024  |  

Adventists (they weren’t Seventh-day Adventists yet) had a pretty good idea back in the 1830s and 1840s. They believed Jesus was returning, and they wanted to be ready for him. 

They were wrong—but they were sincerely and innocently wrong. And righteously wrong: they wanted Jesus to come to set things right on earth. And if they had some controversial ideas about precisely what “setting things right” meant, well, who doesn’t? At least they recognized that they’d had a wonderful spiritual experience during their waiting time, and they wanted to prolong it. 

The evolution to what we are today happened gradually. It began with adding more beliefs. The second coming evolved from God’s initiative to save his people, to being conditional upon a certain set of people believing certain things and acting a certain way. The investigative judgment was followed by the contemporary prophetic gift, then the Sabbath, then the demonization of Roman Catholicism, then the state of the dead, and finally health reform. 

When all the new requirements were added we became, in a way, the controllers of God’s decision for when Jesus should return. If we could believe and do all the right things, Jesus would have to come back!

Ultimate authority

All these threads somehow knotted together in the notion that it wasn’t the Roman Catholics who were the true church, but us. This was said explicitly in Ellen White’s (arguably misunderstood) statements that the General Conference (GC), not the Vatican, is God’s highest authority on earth.

The original statements said “the General Conference in session,” but the latter words are often omitted. I have heard a GC official refer to votes of the GC Executive Committee meetings of all the world’s union and division presidents as also the highest authority of God on earth, while implying strongly that the recommendations brought from the Administration Committee partake of this “highest authority” as well.

Power leads to arrogance. And arrogance is kryptonite to good decision-making. 

Thus, one of the worst ideas that may ever have emerged from 12501 Old Columbia Pike under Elder Ted Wilson. He announced back in 2021, and has renewed his call since, that he is spearheading a move for the church to distribute a billion full-sized copies of The Great Controversy.

Without results

You are aware, of course, that this has already begun—though not to the ambitious extent Elder Wilson has outlined. Over the past two decades Remnant Publications has mailed millions of The Great Controversys, unasked for, to homes across the United States. 

It worked, in a way: it started conversations. Newspaper articles were written. Blogs opined about itOnline discussion forums were abuzz. 

Engaging thoughtfully about the evils of Roman Catholicism, or about Sunday laws or even religious liberty? Hardly. The vast majority were annoyed that their apartment lobbies and recycle bins were filled with not just junk mail, but heavy, ponderously written anti-Catholic junk mail.

Nothing cements Seventh-day Adventism’s reputation as a cult like an unreadable anti-Catholic tome stuck in millions of mailboxes.

What’s the evidence that sending out even a million The Great Controversys has won a soul? Um, let’s check. There must be stories out there, wouldn’t you think? Pastors, what have you heard? Chicago? San Francisco? Charlotte? Some complete stranger who picked the book up and read through it and showed up at church because they realized that the Seventh-day Adventist Church had the truth? 

Still searching. Nada. Nothing. Show me even one instance!

So why are we doing it? Let me tell you the three things that drive these initiatives. First:

Ellen White said it 

Yup. She did. And every word she wrote or said is a pearl of Divine wisdom that, even if taken completely out of context, will be followed by someone.

We are often reminded that Ellen White said that our publications should be distributed “like the leaves of autumn” (Publishing Ministry, 361). Would it surprise you to know that she also said just the opposite?

These tracts should not at present be scattered promiscuously like the autumn leaves, but should be judiciously and freely handed to those who would be likely to prize them.—Testimonies for the Church 1:551, 552 (emphasis mine).

Send them “to those who would be likely to prize them.” In other words, don’t witness in such a way as to waste money and time and goodwill, and irritate the heck out of people. 

C’mon, be honest. What do you think when the Jehovah’s Witnesses leave a pulpy booklet at your door? Do you read it? Do you call them up for more information? No? Why not? Because it’s a terrible way to reach people. 

Far from being an effective tool for witness, filling people’s lobbies and mailboxes with anti-Catholic books is a vaccination against ever having any respect for Seventh-day Adventists! 

Ellen White again: 

But in regard to this line of work I am instructed to say to our people: Be guarded. In bearing the message make no personal thrusts at other churches…. Let us be careful of our words. Reflecting Christ, 240 (emphasis mine).

So again, why do we do it? Here’s a second oft-used but usually unacknowledged reason.

The “no excuse” principle

The “no excuse” principle is rarely articulated. But it has justified many initiatives in Adventist evangelism. It starts with the belief that Matthew 24:14 is a causal statement: 

“This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations and then [that is, as a result of your success in preaching the gospel to all nations] the end will come.”

Please note: as interpreted, this doesn’t mean anyone has to accept it. We only have to preach it, and they only have to have heard it. That book handed to them is their opportunity—and once you give them the opportunity, you have removed their excuse!

Church members sometimes think that the purpose of evangelism is to build up churches. That’s only partially true. Lurking behind our aggressive evangelistic program is the notion that once people have received the brochure or the book, even if they throw it away, they’ve been warned, and they no longer have an excuse in the judgment. After all, “narrow is the gate and few there be that find it.”

You will recognize that this very much continues the conditional vein of Adventist understanding. This is something God wants us to do so Jesus can return. Do you see how much quicker it is to force Jesus to return this way, than actually building up churches of people who accept Jesus and become part of a Christian community?

Follow the money

The third reason is that it inspires big donors, and brings in money. 

Selling books has roots in our church history. Ellen White pushed her books to be sold because she believed they had God’s truth in them. But there was also money made by selling books—including for James and Ellen. 

One source said that The Great Controversy as printed by Remnant Publications lands in people’s mailboxes for a dollar a pop. (That’s probably going to be hard to confirm but there it is, for what it’s worth.) Can Elder Wilson raise a billion additional dollars? 

I wouldn’t be surprised. I doubt he would raise a billion extra dollars for Adventist colleges. I don’t think he could raise it for ADRA, or the support of ministers and schoolteachers. But The Great Controversy is so central to Adventist identity the money might be there. There will be elderly Adventist people who will sign over their whole estates. Some will put off paying the electricity bill in order to send more money for a few more The Great Controversys for recipients to discard. Some of the richest people in the church will dump in millions.

It’s a simple, easy way to feel like you’re a soul-winner, and you never need to leave your chair in front of the television set tuned to 3ABN! We Adventists call this “seed sowing.” And since seed-sowing and excuse-elimination (see above) don’t require cost-effectiveness studies, it’ll keep going even without any verifiable success.

And we’ll continue to see stories on the internet and in the press about what a bunch of weird people those Seventh-day Adventists must be. 

Bad evangelism

To be fair, The Great Controversy made more sense a century ago. It was a time of rampant anti-Catholicism, and we were just one more voice in the “we blame Catholics” chorus. But even then, our tale of conspiratorial cardinals doing away with Saturday worship wasn’t a majority view, or everyone would have become a Seventh-day Adventist. 

But it is not a soul-winning book for today. It is not contemporary. It is far too long. It presents theories about opposition to Sabbath-keeping that have shown no evidence of happening. It is anti-Catholic. Jesus’ return, which was rightly called “the blessed hope” by our pioneers, is in this book set in a frame of such suffering and opposition that it sounds more like “the terrible dread.” 

Ask yourself: would you be won to Christ by this book? 

Responsible stewardship

A friend put his pulp copy of a full-sized The Great Controversy on a postal scale and came up with a weight of 13 ounces. Not that heavy, right? But multiply that by a billion, and that’s about 400,000 tons of paper. At the general measure of 24 trees per ton, that’s 9,600,000 trees we’d be consuming—with no proof that it produces results!

Would this be a good time to remind everyone of Revelation 7:3? 

Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.

I think I’m being optimistic when I calculate that 1% will be kept and 99% of them will go into the trash—some recycled, many simply clogging landfills. And all this while The Great Controversy is available online, in many languages!

True story: when one commenter said that The Great Controversy is already online, another responded that a paper book is so much better. “Think of all the people who are homeless, living under an underpass, who don’t have a computer or a phone. They can have their marked copy of The Great Controversy with them at all times, independent of the internet!”

That even one of us sincerely believes that what a person living under a bridge needs is a copy of The Great Controversy should be a concern to us. 

Couldn’t this money be better spent to help the poor? Yes, I know I’m quoting Judas Iscariot. But we’re not talking about anointing our Savior, only about cold-mailing a book for which there is none but anecdotal evidence of efficacy. The only argument for doing it is a single statement by Ellen White, which she then contradicts. 

How would a billion dollars be received to buy medicines or vaccines for the world’s poorest nations? Or given to ADRA to help the people of Gaza or Haiti? 

Cost-benefit analysis

I have heard people say, “If one person is won by this, it will have been worth it.” 

But is this a wise way to make decisions? Yes, one soul is valuable, but what if you could use a better method and win 100? 1,000? 10,000? 100,000? I ask again: where is the evidence that sending out millions of unasked-for books has won even one person to our church? 

People, we can do better. Yes, Adventist-laymen’s Services & Industries (ASI) generously gives for evangelism. But ASI’s money is not the best way to decide the church’s outreach methodologies. I beg Elder Wilson to turn to the younger leaders in the North American Division and elsewhere, and seek from them ways of moving the church’s outreach forward without consuming ten million trees. 


Loren Seibold is the Executive Editor of Adventist Today.

 


James W. Walters is professor emeritus of ethics at Loma Linda University.

 

Editorial: Finish the Work? No, Just Do the Work!

 

All my life I’ve heard this phrase: “Finish the work, so Jesus can come!” 

I confess, I find it problematic.

The Gospel Commission, you’ll recall, is “Preach the good news everywhere!” But what is the good news? Is it lecturing people about a bunch of doctrinal abstractions, and then recording their names on the church books? 

Jesus did some teaching, but it wasn’t especially doctrinal. It was about living a righteous life and godly behavior. 

Mostly, he did good things for people. He didn’t, as far as I know, keep a list of members. 

Furthermore, Jesus didn’t say “Preach the Seventh-day Adventist church doctrines.” He said, “Preach the good news.” That’s a pretty simple message: Jesus loves you, and wants to you to live with him for eternity. 

Do you think that’s a work you and I can finish? I don’t. Which is why I opt for a different formulation: “Do the work!” 

“The work” is helping people. Making people happier. Making their lives better. Bringing them “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17).

Adventist congregations, I regret to say, aren’t especially good at that. Some of us are so busy checking out one another’s dinner plates and earlobes that we have little time for helping people. 

No, I’m pretty sure it’s not up to us to finish the work. That’s God’s job. Once we start just doing the work of telling people how much Jesus loves all of us, and showing them by our actions, we might see something significant happen.

But until we quit trying to finish a work we apparently don’t know how to do, we’re wasting our time.

Loren Seibold
Executive Editor, Adventist Today
29 June 2024

 

Editorial: Why Johnny Couldn’t Be Baptized

 

Pearl was close to 70 when I was her pastor. It would be hard for you to imagine just how primitive Pearl’s life was, especially given the harsh Dakota climate we lived in. Her house was a leaky little shack, far out in the hills. I don’t know what she lived on—probably some small Social Security, or rent for her single field of farmland. I suspect she got most of her food from her garden, a few chickens, and livestock. I don’t remember her ever complaining, though—she was a cheerful person. And very, very convinced of the truth of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Pearl raised her 12-year-old mentally handicapped grandson, Johnny, whose mom had dumped him on her elderly mother so she could pursue her own life. Johnny could feed himself and use the bathroom, but it was hard to know how much of anything else he understood. He sat in the cradle roll Sabbath School, where he would try to sing, and take the items handed to him like any toddler would. He seemed to enjoy it.

Once, after we’d had a baptism of some children in church, Pearl said to me, “Johnny would like to be baptized. But of course, he can’t be, because he could never understand the lessons.” I told her I would baptize Johnny—that I believed God understood Johnny’s limitations—but she would have none of it. She was sure that to be baptized, you had to know things and be able to explain things. I suspect, though I never asked her directly, that she believed Johnny wouldn’t be saved because he couldn’t understand doctrines and be baptized.

There’s a lesson here, but it isn’t an easy one. Because Pearl was right: church as we usually do it is about knowing things and explaining things. A pastor’s education is mostly becoming knowledgeable about God. Worship is the pastor standing up and explaining things about God. 

But is that all there is to faith? Can the blessings of baptism, for example, come to someone who can’t understand the doctrines? Is there room in church for Johnny? 

We’ve probably made it all too complicated. I wouldn’t want to spend eternity with a God who wouldn’t save Johnny—whether or not Johnny was ever baptized.

Thank you for reading and supporting Adventist Today.

Loren Seibold
Adventist Today Executive Editor
8 June 2024

 

Editorial: God Doesn’t Need Your Protection

 

Sometimes people ask me what it was that made me begin to question the fundamentalist faith of my childhood. I’ve thought about that question a lot. And the truth is that there’s not one clear or concise answer I can give. There were a lot of things over the years that began to build up slowly until an avalanche of questions broke the dam I had built around them.

I had a college friend that came out as gay and was immediately rejected by everyone around him. The 2015 GC vote not to ordain women affected me strongly. Reading the story of Job as an adult and realizing that it’s either a parable, or God has less empathy and respect for life than I do. These are just a few instances that puzzled me.

But the thing that kept haunting me again and again until I couldn’t silence it was my intuitive understanding that anything we can call truth has to be able to hold up to scrutiny. Or, to say the inverse, anything we aren’t allowed to question can’t hold up as truth.

Things that are true can withstand questions. Truth doesn’t need to be protected by sheltering it from investigation. That is the basis of science. I don’t believe science and faith need to be opposed to one another: they can work in harmony. And I think whatever God is, God doesn’t need me or anyone else to protect God from questions.

So ask questions. God can handle it.

Lindsey Abston Painter
Adventist Today Writer and Editor
25 May 2024

editorial-LAP

Am I a Better Parent than God?”

The first day of my oldest child’s life I snuggled her in my hospital bed and began to tell her Bible stories. I started with Noah’s Ark—but stopped because the story begins with the death of everyone in the world except Noah’s family. I moved to David and Goliath but stopped because it’s about a fight to the death.

I tried Moses, Samson, Abraham, but I realized every story I tried to tell had some kind of element in it that isn’t really appropriate for children.

And that was the beginning of how having children influenced my view of God.

As my children aged, they had behaviors I didn’t like. But the older they got, and the more I got to know them, the more I realized that their behaviors are a reflection of something they need support with, not something they needed to be punished for.

I stopped treating my children in a purely authoritarian way, and began seeing us in a relationship with me, a person with more experience in this world, teaching and modeling for them how to get along. I’m not an authority over them, so much as a guide, helping them understand how to navigate this complicated world.

It also completely changed my view of God. The God I had been taught most of my young life was said to be loving, but was very authoritative—mysterious and baffling, and to be obeyed no matter the cost, often without any explanation.

But I don’t expect unquestioning obedience from my children. Why would I teach my children to follow authority without question? That’s the exact opposite of the critical thinking I hope they are learning to do. I don’t do things that hurt them and then say “Parents work in mysterious ways” as an explanation. If I treated my children the way I had been taught God treats his children, I would not be a very good parent.

I realize that my understanding of God was flawed: there’s no way I’m a better parent than God. God is good, kind, and understanding. And that’s the kind of parent I try to be, too.

Lindsey Abston Painter
Editor and Writer, Adventist Today

 

An Introvert in a Happy Church World

 

by Rich Hannon  |  7 May 2024  |

I am a “card-carrying” introvert. But because I’m not a stereotype, I don’t check all the possible characteristic boxes. For example, although I’m a layman, I’ve preached many sermons in my adult life. I trained as a teacher and feel comfortable up front, speaking extemporaneously. Introverts aren’t necessarily shy.

However, our church services and surrounding culture aren’t very sensitive toward introverts. I’ve vaguely known this forever, but perhaps a decade ago I read an excellent book by Susan Cain, titled: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. 

In a short section of the book (pp. 64-70), under the heading “Does God Love Introverts? An Evangelical’s Dilemma,” she describes a 2006 visit to Rick Warren’s mega-church, Saddleback, accompanied by a self-identified introvert and evangelical pastor named Adam McHugh. He later wrote a book titled: Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture.

As Cain and McHugh talked during their visit, he told her (p. 66) of his belief that the evangelical church has a presupposition of extroversion-as-orthodoxy:

“The evangelical culture ties together faithfulness with extreme extroversion. The emphasis is on community, on participating in more programs and events, on meeting more and more people. It’s a constant tension for many introverts that they’re not living that out. And in a religious world, there’s more at stake when you feel that tension. It doesn’t feel like ‘I’m not doing as well as I’d like.’ It feels like ‘God isn’t pleased with me.’”

I haven’t read McHugh’s book, but Cain’s short exposition of her Saddleback visit, detailing their skew toward extroversion, finally pulled together some of the disparate discomforts I’ve always had within my church experience. 

Evangelicals widely, and Adventists specifically, substantively engage in “church” as if everyone were extroverted. The central and valuable idea of community seems too often to play out in ways that are stressors to introverts. 

Contexts

Consider some reactions an introvert like me might have when attending a prototypical Adventist church service.

Greeters

In almost every church I’ve ever visited there are greeters, stationed by the entrances, whose job is to welcome those arriving. They typically offer a bulletin and sometimes have visitors sign the guest book. All fine, in service of being perceived as a welcoming church. But this process can sometimes produce discomfort for an introvert. 

Here is an admittedly extreme example. There’s a church my wife and I have visited a few times that has a particularly effusive greeter usually on-duty. This lady hugs everyone who comes through the door. It has been a cringe-worthy experience for my wife. 

The lady hasn’t (yet) trapped me, but my standard move when entering a lobby is to engage in broken-field walking, using available lobby people as blockers. I can usually zip through before being snared, and get to the sanctuary door goal-line. My wife, who’s also somewhat introverted, is less assertive in evading unwelcome attention. So, she’s been trapped by the hugger and, in consequence, has an aversion to visiting that church. I tell her she needs to traverse the lobby like me, but she unsurprisingly rolls her eyes at my over-the-top methodology.

I suspect the greeter I’m describing is operating as she would like to be treated, were the roles reversed, and might be surprised that not everyone would receive this heartfelt welcome with appreciation. But other more typical and restrained modalities of greeting still lean toward extroversion. The default mindset ties “friendly” and “demonstrative” together.

At another church we once visited, the greeter quite surreptitiously placed a tiny woven-cloth rose, with sticky back, on our lapels. It was evident to us that the church had decided to tag visitors to clue members in, so they might be more proactively welcoming. We pulled the tags off, as soon as we exited the lobby. We just wanted to go to church. The intention was sincere, but the mechanism was objectifying. Still, I think many extroverts would find nothing in this practice to dislike. All is good in service of friendliness.

The Preliminaries

Most North American Adventist services have preliminaries, which can include an official welcome, various announcements, etc. Many also have some form of a “greet your neighbor” task for worshipers to engage in. You’re invited (actually mandated) to “turn to your neighbor and say …” followed by some stock phrase. In some churches congregants are asked to stand and walk around, greeting others. So the sanctuary turns into the foyer for about 5 minutes, as people move about, engaging in sincere cacophony. 

I suppose many extroverted visitors would feel welcomed by such gestures. But it is superficial, forced behavior, and way out of an introvert’s comfort zone. No matter. When the up-front leader tells you to demonstrate friendliness, it is within an extrovert’s paradigm. So, everybody gets in gear, anxiety notwithstanding.

After reading Susan Cain, I later looked on Amazon to get some basic info about the book authored by her fellow-observer, Adam McHugh. Reading through the reviews I found this comment, which strongly resonated:

“You want to know what the worst two minutes of my life are every week? It starts with that moment directly after we sing in church when the worship pastor asks the congregation to turn to someone next to you and say hi. Every single time, my eyes just want to roll.

“I’m not against meeting new people. I actually think people are pretty cool. I used to think that I was just being shy and needed to fight my innate shyness, but in reality, what I loathe is the lack of genuineness. The whole procedure is forced and fake. By the time I am done shaking my neighbor’s hand, I have already forgotten his name. Why? Because I don’t know him and there has been no attempt to know each other.”

Yes, it’s less about interacting with others and more about distaste for choreographed superficiality. But that aversion is part of an introvert’s psyche, too. I have had comparatively few “friends,” and many enjoyable “acquaintances,” over the years. That’s because of how I define friendship. It necessarily involves taking off the mask of pleasantries and being vulnerable with your friend, who willingly reciprocates. Then there is a safe context to talk about substance. This sort of intimacy doesn’t happen quickly and it does not scale. Even if highly compatible people crossed your path daily, no one has the bandwidth to form very many friendships of the sort I’m describing. Introverts welcome intimacy, but would often prefer solitude rather than engaging in the ubiquitous, casual interactions that we all experience.

Calls for Dedication

It’s near the end of a sermon, with the preacher reaching, then passing, the apogee of both exposition and emotion. Finally, right where typically there would be a closing prayer, the speaker instead calls upon everyone to physically respond by standing to affirm that they all align with the just-delivered message. Presumably it has deeply moved everyone and thus this act would voluntarily signify (re)dedication. 

If you’ve ever experienced this coda to a sermon, you likely can recognize that the dominant dynamic here is group pressure to stand up—whether or not you actually feel any personal religio-emotional stirrings or not. I’ve usually felt such moves were blatantly manipulative, even though I also think that typically the speaker is not being disingenuous. Still, they can be oblivious to the group dynamics, thinking this kind of “call” legitimately intensifies the sermon’s impact and value. 

Also, historically this kind of ending has been modeled upon previous generations of preachers, albeit less frequently employed these days. And, a bit insidiously, the speaker can believe there is a heightened sense of message-validation when calling for and receiving a physical response from listeners. This can feel good, as it seems the sermon has reached deep into the hearts of the congregation, even if it didn’t. 

But peer pressure is at the core. Suppose you did not stand with virtually everyone else in the room? The nominal conclusion many around you would likely infer was that you were oddly opposed to the (usually conventional, sometimes clichéd) spiritual reason you were supposed to stand up for. Not that you instead objected to manipulation. There have been a few occasions in my church-going adventures, when I actually remained seated. I was just tired of the maneuver and chose to live with possibly being misunderstood. But the pressure to conform is real, central, and makes the entire action illegitimate—however sincere the preacher may be. And while this snippet of church experience isn’t just problematic to an introvert, when one is “forced” to participate in discomfiting ways, I think the introvert’s cringe level is somewhat deeper than for a prototypical extrovert.

Foot Washing

Adventism is rare, among denominations, in including foot washing as part of the communion service. And anyone who has significant experience in the church should recognize that historically attendance is noticeably lower on communion Sabbaths. It’s the foot washing, and I suggest that being uncomfortable with this portion of the service is highly correlated to introversion.

As an aside, these days some congregations have tried to mitigate this largely unspoken-of angst by providing an option of couples pairing to wash each other’s feet. Further, I think there is now less social stigma to simply remain in the sanctuary, typically listening to quiet meditative music. So, the “problem” has been reduced somewhat.

Just what is the issue? First and significantly, I don’t think people, who have an aversion to the exercise, really disagree with the symbolism. Nor do they have some sort of humility problem. But historically, after the official explanation from up front, people would file out of the sanctuary—men to one room, women to another—and “buddy up” with whoever randomly happened to reach the foot washing room door at the same moment as you did. Thus, you are highly unlikely to pair with someone you know well. 

Yet, in performing this activity, there is ideally a sense of spiritual gravity, with—in my view—a needed interweaving of social intimacy with whoever is your partner. But in practice such familiarity is likely absent. Mainly due to the lack of prior relationship depth with this randomly drawn partner. 

Such dissonance is easier to overcome, I suggest, for an extrovert. This isn’t a criticism; it’s a virtue. But I’m not wired that way, and I’m forced to fit within the blueprint. A psyche of introversion doesn’t just exist; it is legitimate. But this activity almost always necessitates artificial, forced, and thus pseudo-intimacy. The symbolism is important, and I have significant dissonance with my reluctance. I recognize there are many participants for whom my perspective here would be foreign, even baffling. It’s all good, to them. 

But I’m suggesting, as are Susan Cain and Adam McHugh, that there is a sociological current of extroversion in the evangelical mindset, including Adventism. The current runs swift, silent, and deep. And one manifestation is in the degree of discomfort many introverts have with this communion component.

What do I want, anyway?

I write this essay with a bit of fear that it will be perceived by some as inappropriately critical, even whiny. I also recognize that many of the assertions I’m making haven’t been buttressed with lots of sociological research. So these views can be considered as hasty generalizations and consequently invalid. Instead, I’ve focused on my own experience, with the belief that other introverts will find resonance, and perhaps some may get a bit more clarity on why parts of church life could feel discordant.

For extroverts, especially those fully in-tune with a default Happy-Church context, I hope they might recognize—just a bit more—that there is a significant and quiet minority who have to endure parts of their comfortable church experience. For the most congenitally extroverted, this might be a big surprise. For others, I hope this exposition could be a reminder that people vary in temperament, and perhaps some strongly extroverted ways of “doing church” could use a bit more moderation.


Rich Hannon is a retired software engineer. His long-standing avocations include philosophy, geology, and medieval history.

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Why Sunday Is My Day of Rest

 

by Stephen Ferguson  |  10 May 2024  |

Thank goodness for Sunday. As a Seventh-day Adventist, Sunday is my day of rest.

We all know the fourth commandment of the Decalogue by heart, because as Adventists it is our special thing:

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it orderly.

Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy ordinary paid work.

But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: on it, ye shall organize a Sabbath-school class, a worship item, a song service, a drama, a potluck lunch, a communion service, a Pathfinder club camp, a nomination committee meeting, or a sermon.

Ye shall spend the Friday-night evening researching, cooking. or rehearsing. 11pm or midnight shall be your allotted time for sleep.

Everyone in your entire family shall participate in this holy work: thy son, thy daughter, thy manservant and thy maidservant, even thy cattle or the stranger who happens to reside within your gate. If ye are a pastor’s spouse or pastor’s child, thou shall be guilt-tripped into this Lord’s work threefold.

For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it. Therefore, as the Lord sits back and relaxes, work yourself ragged in church-related activities.

That’s Exodus 20:8-11—with some modern reapplication, just as the apostle Paul used to do. (see Eph. 6:2-3 cf. Ex. 20:12.)

Thank God it’s Sunday

Thank God for Sunday. I say that genuinely, not in vain. It is the one day most Adventists—at least we supposedly “good Adventists”—get a break.

Last week was especially brutal. I worked till midnight almost every night in my day job as a government lawyer, to ensure certain officers didn’t face dramatic legal penalties in an upcoming court case. I think I did about 20 extra hours of overtime, and while I am grateful for the money, I would honestly have rather had the time off.

Did I have to work so hard? Not strictly – no. I guess if I didn’t care about people facing potential ruin, I could have taken it easy. Otherwise, yes, I did.

This week also required me to assume the role of sole parent for two elementary-school children, ages 7 and 5, while my wife was traveling on business. After an exhausting week, when Friday evening finally came round, I faced the opening of Sabbath with dread. I realized that tomorrow I had to help run a Primary Sabbath School class in the morning, followed by an Adventurer’s class in the afternoon. I also had to try and find someone to take an adult Sabbath School class, which usually has a dearth of volunteers.

Did I need to help with these church-related activities? Not strictly – no. If I didn’t care about leaving the children’s ministry leader in the lurch, or about my own children who participate in these activities, or about our church’s Adsafe requirement that two adults be present in these children’s classes. Otherwise, yes, I did.

The only thing that saved me that terrible week, both mentally and physically, was Sunday—that most glorious day!

Bring on a Sunday law!

I admit Sunday isn’t always perfect. Sometimes I awake on this special eighth day only to have my dreams of a quiet time shattered by my lovely wife, who hands me a list. As I usually have such a busy work week, and spend Sabbath doing church stuff, that often leaves only Sunday for chores.

Nonetheless, all things being equal, Sunday is my best chance for getting some rest.

It is for this reason I have no fear of an impending Sunday law. In fact, I welcome it. I can only dream of a guaranteed day of complete rest. I long for a time when mowing the lawn, cleaning the pool, putting out laundry, or washing the car on a Sunday will be illegal.

Plucking grain on the Sabbath

Work friends who know about my religious beliefs can’t help but be amazed that I sacrifice half my weekend like this. To them, the Adventist Sabbath seems less like a taste of heaven than some level in Dante’s hell. I confess I am probably not doing a great job at selling the Sabbath ideal in my Christian witnessing.

Perhaps some of you feel the same. Is it any wonder so many Adventists never returned to their local churches after Covid-19? Maybe it’s different where you live, but my anecdotal estimate is that 20-25% of Adventists never came back to regular church worship after the pandemic.

Maybe some of us learned, perhaps for the first time, what it felt like to sleep in on a Saturday morning after a stressful working week—and sound it truly wonderful.

If you are in Adventist church employment, no doubt these sentiments are only amplified. For an Adventist pastor, the Sabbath is not a day of rest, but one’s heaviest day of work. Many pastors’ spouses and pastors’ kids come to see the Sabbath in very negative terms.

Sunday is even more precious to our pastors.

The best Sabbath-keeper I ever met

Could I learn to live the Sabbath ideal better? Of course, I could. To paraphrase the apostle Paul, I often end up doing what I don’t want to do, and don’t do what I know I should do.

I am embarrassed to say the best Sabbath-keeper I ever met was a Sunday-keeping pastor. He believed in the Sabbath as a one-in-seven command, which I admit was not entirely theologically correct. Nevertheless, because he ran a large church on a Sunday, his personal day of rest was Saturday. And how he kept Saturday was truly impressive.

He made each Saturday a true delight. He certainly did not approach the day with a legalistic, Pharisaic attitude. He drove a car, cooked food, visited family and friends, went to the shops, went to the beach, and did a bunch of other things most Orthodox Jews and many Adventists might not do, for fear of being labelled “work.”

Yet, he seemed to get the Sabbath far better than most professed Sabbath-keepers—me included. I would describe his attitude to the day of rest as “a day of chill.”

When he went for a Sabbath walk on the beach, he would go at a slow pace. When he drove, he would deliberately drive in the slow lane and happily let angry and impatient drivers pass him, immune to their road-raged honking horns. When he went to the shops, he would focus on casually browsing, not buying.

Clocks were banned. Screens were banned. Any sort of scheduling or timetabling was banned.

I confess, for all my commitments to church-sponsored activities, which at times nearly kill me, my own Sabbath-keeping was a failure compared to this man’s. You might ask: who in God’s eyes was really the better Seventh-day Adventist? It was him – not me.

Should we abandon Sabbath-work for Sunday-services?

There must be a better way for me, and for you, to do Sabbath.

Does this mean just quitting all my church-related roles? I think saying “no” to church requests is legitimate, but only to a point. The Sabbath is as much about others as ourselves. I don’t think acting selfishly is the answer. The fourth commandment explicitly states it applies as much to the foreigner, the servant, and even our domesticated animals, as it applies to me.

One of the greater ironies of the Adventist church is that many Adventists are tired from Sabbath-related activities precisely because so few are willing to take on church roles. If everyone did their fair share, then the burden wouldn’t be so great. I am sorry to say I am currently doing far less church stuff these days than I have done in the past, and even this load is almost too much for me.

Perhaps instead this means we shouldn’t do the Lord’s work on Sabbath? Just make it a day of doing actually nothing? I don’t think that is the answer either. I have no theological issue with doing church-related activities from Friday night to Saturday-night. This is the whole point of Jesus’ teaching about the disciples’ plucking grain on the Sabbath (Luke 6:1-5). Jesus was not repudiating the Sabbath as a principle, as many Christians wrongly think, but rather affirming that doing the Lord’s work on Sabbath isn’t work forbidden by the fourth commandment.

Perhaps the answer then is to start going to church on Sunday? That idea isn’t as horrible as we might think, although I fear for its practical implications.

Note that the Bible attests Jesus and the apostles all regularly attended their assemblies on Sabbath, which is to say on Saturday (Luke 4:16; Acts 14:1). Both scripture (Acts 20:7) and early church history suggest that communion services were usually Sabbath afternoons or evenings, not Sundays.[1]

Nonetheless, both Adventists and Sunday-keepers are equally in error of equating “doing church” with keeping the Sabbath, when they are not in fact the same thing. Adventists have traditionally had a Bible study or prayer meeting on Wednesday nights, but this hardly made us Fourth-day Adventists. Theologically speaking, I see no reason why an Adventist church could not hold a church-related activity – even a worship service – on a Sunday. We do it all the time for weeks of prayer, summer camps, church camps, and other special programs.

The idea of replacing the Saturday service with the Sunday service would freak most Adventists out, me included—although I can see no biblical prohibition against it. I think the bigger practical problem of holding church services on Sunday, rather than Saturday, is we would soon start to forget Saturday was the Sabbath at all. This, of course, is what happened historically, where in the first few centuries of Christianity, Saturday remained a special day for quite some time, often as a day of fasting, even though worship occurred on a Sunday. The problem was, out-of-sight became out-of-mind, and after a while, Sunday went from a day of worship in addition to the Sabbath to a day that replaced the Sabbath.

Can lunch be church rather than what we do after church?

So what’s the answer then? To be honest, I am not entirely sure. I am open to ideas.

Maybe church services don’t have to be a major Broadway production? Maybe we should have more unstructured, unprepared services, as is the case in some Christian traditions?

Maybe church administration could be streamlined, so people are not so exhausted from keeping the lights on and the bills paid that they have some energy left for God? Maybe cut short the unnecessarily long and cumbersome board, deacon, and elder meetings?

Maybe church should be on a Friday night, or Saturday afternoon? Maybe Sabbath School shouldn’t start at 9:30am? Maybe we shouldn’t even meet every week?

Maybe we should sit on couches rather than pews? Maybe sometimes the luncheon and fellowship should be the church service, rather than something we do after the service, as was often the case in the Early Church.[2]

I know many local Adventist churches have experimented with various ideas—and I hope they keep trying new things. All I know is that what we are currently doing doesn’t always work well in a 21st-century context, and I think these challenges are only getting harder.

I think we need to be willing to slaughter some sacred cows—which may actually be just golden calves after all.

“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).


  1. See Philip F. Esler, The Early Christian World, vol. 1 (New York: Routledge, 2000), 480. 
  2. Ibid. 

Stephen Ferguson is a lawyer from Perth, Western Australia, with expertise in planning, environment, immigration, and administrative-government law. He is married to Amy and has two children, William and Eloise. Stephen is a member of the Livingston Adventist Church. 

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He Was a Stone Wall, I Was Water: Gender and Fluidity at Margarette Falls

Evie Bates | March 1, 2024 | People

The rusted undercarriage of my 1992 Honda Civic Hatchback protested the last half-mile of potholed, single lane road to a house in Greeneville, Tennessee. On that late-summer day in 2017, I drove to spend time with Michael Carducci, senior speaker and co-founder of Coming Out Ministries. The organization’s website describes him as someone “freed from the chains of homosexuality”. . . “living proof that God changes lives.” 

My parents begged me to make the appointment with Carducci just a few weeks before. I already knew him well. I called him Mike. My day with him was a last-ditch effort to resolve my decade-long “gender confusion.” I hoped he would give me the magic words I needed to feel certain I was the man God made me to be.

Mike opened the door and welcomed me in. The house was neat, a little light filtering through the windows. He told me his plan for the day: drive out of town, take a hike, and then talk.

The hike was to Margarette Falls, a 2.5-mile trip to a tall waterfall and pool. Mike told me he liked going there to cool off. He said I should be prepared to get in the water.  

“That’s okay, I brought jeans and hiking boots,” I said. “I’ll just enjoy the views.”

That was nonsense, Mike told me. He had swimming trunks I could borrow. He brought out trunks four sizes larger than I was, and insisted I cinch them up and wear them. I protested. I have never felt comfortable wearing men’s swim trunks, even less so when going shirtless. 

Mike was relentless. He convinced me to at least wear them under my jeans in case I changed my mind. 

There are memories from this day I cannot fully grasp. They appear in momentary flashes like reflections in a car window. I couldn’t tell you what we talked about driving to the trailhead. I don’t believe he gave me advice. Not yet. It is easier to talk about vulnerable things after talking about nothing for long enough.

I was nine years old the first time I had the conscious thought that I did not align with the gender I was assigned at birth. I didn’t have any words to define myself. My education sheltered me from knowledge of LGBTQ identities beyond the fact that some men liked other men in a romantic way, and that was disgusting and perverted. I had no exposure to gender nonconformity. For all I knew, no other people felt the way I did. 

I knew, though, in the deepest part of my being. 

This caused no small controversy in my home. I made my first declaration of personhood perched on the bathroom counter with my mother fussing over me because I had tried to pierce my own ears.

“I’m a girl,” I said. “I know you don’t think that’s possible but one day I’m going to be a grown-up, and you won’t be able to keep me from being a girl.”

In the following years, I experienced a tangle of internal turmoil and external pressure to accept masculinity. I saw the world’s unkind treatment of people like me. 

By the time puberty hit, I felt hopeless. I didn’t want to be the way I was. I would have done anything not to feel disconnected from my body. I wanted to be a man, if only to avoid the pain and confusion of dysmorphia. 

I would fully commit to godly manhood. Maybe then my feelings would go away. Maybe then I would find peace. 

I saw my true face in the mirror at age twenty. Though studying at deeply traditional Weimar College, I knew I could no longer survive in the masculine facade I had maintained since adolescence. 

Autumn rain fell as I spent a day dressed as myself a few cities away where no one would recognize me. Wearing women’s clothing did not make me transgender. It did, however, confirm who I was—who I would be one day.

Not long after, I returned to North Carolina to live with my parents. The clothes, makeup, and hope came back with me, buried in the bottom of my suitcase. They reminded me that someday people would see my true self, externally and internally.  For months they lived in the bottom of my drawer. 

Then one night I came home from work to find my parents away at a church event, and my secret, vulnerable belongings arranged on the kitchen counter.

Instead of hiding or lying or running, I came out to my parents that night. 

My father, the pastor, paraded around the kitchen haphazardly wearing a wig, face twisted in fury. “Do I look hot now?” He yelled, and used profanity to ask if I wanted to have relations with him. In this emotional, traumatizing environment, after I stood immobile in the kitchen for hours attempting not to cave to alternate sobs and screams, my parents begged me to speak to Mike Carducci.

Coming out meant losing housing, community, and safety. I wanted what Coming Out Ministries promised: freedom from what in aggregate they call “the gay lifestyle.” If I could free myself from that, life would be easier, happier. 

Coming Out Ministries claimed—and still claims—to offer “restoration and liberty to those struggling with sexuality, identity, or brokenness.” This means telling gay and lesbian individuals their feelings are temptations, and they must live celibate lives. It means calling bisexual individuals “confused” because of past trauma; they must simply choose heterosexual lives. It means telling transgender individuals that identifying as trans means saying God makes mistakes. Gender-nonconforming people must simply repent and accept the person they were made to be—cisgendered, secure in their birth-assigned sex. 

In part, I believed this for myself, but I knew that my mind and my body were not the same. Mike could end my internal war. He could explain and resolve my dysmorphia.

I found it odd that Mike took so many pictures of me at the waterfall. I already felt uncomfortable, dreading the vulnerable conversation I knew we would have later. Setting boundaries and advocating for myself was foreign to me, so I remained silent. I wonder what reason he would have given if I had asked why he took the photos.

When we returned to his house, my visit’s main purpose loomed. We sat in his living room, silence swelling, waiting for words to fill it. 

It’s been almost seven years, and despite the gravity of that conversation—that turning point—I can’t remember the exact words he used. Still, there isn’t a universe in which I could forget what he told me. When he was young, before his redemption, while he still “lived in sin,” Mike questioned his gender, too, he told me. It was 1980s California. He had some transgender friends or friends who did drag—one an identity and one a form of artistic expression. He viewed them as the same.  

He said it was only because he identified as gay. Because he was filling the woman’s role in a relationship. If he had acted as the man he was made to be, Mike said, he would never have questioned his gender. Since he played a woman in bed, he began to think he must be one.

He told me I shouldn’t transition because I would look like Caitlyn Jenner. He said I would spend thousands on hair implants, plastic surgery, augmentation, and more. He wanted me to know that she was still unhappy after spending all that money. She could never feel happy trying to be a woman because she would never be one. She was filling a hole in her life that only the peace of Jesus could fill, Mike told me. He consistently misgendered her.

The conversation ranged from severe criticism of transgender people to pleas for me to repent and let God replace what I lacked. He referenced a recent movie that poorly, sometimes offensively, portrayed a transgender woman. The movie argued that she never struggled with her gender until she put on women’s clothes. Mike believed because she modeled a dress once, she thought she was a woman.  

He told me I would never be happy with my face in the mirror if I transitioned. It could never be enough, because no matter how hard I might try, I would always be a man, he said. He called my thoughts sinful, and told me to surrender them and repent.

My day at Mike Carducci’s house ended in his bedroom, where he held my hands. With his thumbs, he stroked the backs of my hands while he prayed that God would make me the man I was born to be.  

I left, still not a man, still conflicted, even more confused.

I was confused because I had never been attracted to men, and he believed transgender identity comes from homosexual attraction. I was confused because I had known I was a girl a decade before I had the opportunity to dress as one, but he believed wearing women’s clothes made me question my gender. I was confused because the best argument he could give against transition was that I would be ugly.  

Only one thing changed that day. 

I drove home knowing that God doesn’t make mistakes and didn’t make a mistake when setting before me a journey of radically transforming my exterior to reflect my heart.  

Mike spoke with solid, immovable authority. He left no room for nuance, interpretation, or debate. He spoke as if the exact words he used to justify his belief came directly from scripture, though they didn’t. But if he was a stone wall, then I was water. I was fluid, adapting, responsive to my reality. Rocks of fear and shame could not confine my view of God’s image and the tenderness and love with which God confers that self-image. 

Mike made strong arguments for why I shouldn’t and couldn’t entertain gender nonconformity, but even as I drove away, grace began eroding his constructs.

I don’t have a unique story of discomfort, pressure, and predation from Coming Out Ministries. Their directives, given in private settings and on public stages, have led to numerous psychiatric hospitalizations and death by suicide. These are stories I know personally, but are not mine to tell. Many people of my generation, when asked why they are no longer Seventh-day Adventist, or even Christian, point to Coming Out Ministries.  

My story has a happy ending. In September 2020 I came out again as transgender, this time publicly. I knew in the moments leading up to that admission, that declaration, that I could never make a list of reasons long enough or scary enough to justify hiding who I am.

I am a woman. God made me a woman and gave me the tools to discover that. I look in the mirror and see the face I always saw when I closed my eyes before—no wigs, hair implants, or plastic surgery required. My body feels like home.

Many people affected by Coming Out Ministries do not have happy stories to tell. The organization’s reach continues to expand. They claim to offer a message of diversity, equity, and inclusion, while isolating their targets and filling them with shame and hopelessness. The pattern of predation and manipulation spans the stories told by all those who have received Coming Out’s interventions. Despite attending numerous presentations by the organization, I have yet to encounter a true Coming Out success story. Churches willingly invite them to speak because they hear that people like me are an issue that needs solving. Coming Out Ministries makes appealing claims of compassion and hope.

Coming Out dangles a delicious solution to the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s vexing “LGBTQ problem”. They offer punishment dressed in redemptive clothing. They offer isolation disguised as friendship. They offer atonement for sins no one has committed. 

As long as Adventists hide behind Coming Out’s dogma to excuse smiling and turning away holy souls at the door, the damage will continue. People will die because they believe their attraction or identity is a fundamental, permanent flaw. That is not hope. That is not healing. That is not compassion. That is actual evil.

Editor’s note: Before the publication of this article, Spectrum reached Michael Carducci for comment. Carducci recalled meeting with the author and said he had photographs from that day. He also acknowledged that swimwear was “provided as an option,” but denied that any of his actions were inappropriate. “I’ve taken many friends up there and we’ve gone swimming,” he said.

When asked questions about his counseling qualifications and education, Carducci described himself as a high school graduate with some college education. He cited Jesus’s lack of education compared with the Sanhedrin and King David’s lack of experience before becoming king.

“So I looked at that, and I think to myself, you know, I don’t know that a college degree is necessary when you’re talking about spiritual things, and spiritual things are spiritually discerned,” he said. “I certainly don’t talk of myself as somebody that’s educated in the world standards, but I have spent 24 years studying the Bible and my own personal experience. And that’s really what I share. And that’s all we offer.”

Carducci confirmed that the physical contact occurred but defended it as not sexual. 

Carducci was invited to share any photos described in the author’s account and any current Coming Out Ministries policies concerning appropriate contact during counseling sessions, but he did not respond by the time of publication. 

 

 

God’s Many, Many People

by Loren Seibold

Lately I’ve been thinking about churches: the congregations I used to be a pastor of, as well as the whole denomination I identify with. 

One notable thing about all churches, at all levels, is that there’s an inside and an outside. These organizations formalize the division between members and those who aren’t. Additionally, nearly all churches have buildings of a peculiar style where we meet, peculiar social mores within the group, and special rituals and behaviors that you have to learn.

We Adventists go farther. A Methodist friend was surprised to hear his Adventist wife refer to “non-Adventists.” “What kind of church,” he wondered, “has a designated word for everyone who isn’t one of you?” 

Worse: some Adventists believe that anyone who isn’t one of us is ineligible for salvation! How arrogant! Who am I to say whom God will save? Just as I can love my family without looking down on yours, so with my church. 

I’m weary of the whole inside-outside dichotomy. What would happen to Christianity—to all spiritual communities—if we weren’t exclusive? Maybe John Lennon was right when he said that we should imagine a world without religion. Religion divides people because it usually demands that you see things our way, and rejects you if you don’t. How many wars have been fought in the name of some god or religion? How many restrictions of freedom have been initiated to force people to conform to politicians’ or clergy’s picture of what their god wants?

And how many people have been alienated from God entirely by divisive words of ministers? All preachers should engrave this line from Ecclesiastes on their hearts: “Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few” (5:2).

It’s taken me a while, but I’m glad I can say openly and confidently that God loves everyone, wants to include all of us, and that God’s kingdom will be filled with everyone who hasn’t consciously chosen to be excluded.

Loren Seibold
Executive Editor, Adventist Today
17 February 2024

 

Dance! Dance! Dance!

by Thandazani Mhlanga  |  15 February 2024  |

There appear to be several ancient civilizations that did not have the wheel. But I challenge you to show me a people who never had music and dancing. Dance is as natural to humanity as leaves are to a tree. It is the native tongue of the soul, a language that expresses that which words can not begin to articulate. 

Infants seem to master this language of the soul earlier than the spoken word. My children were wiggling and expressing joy at music before they established a word bank. 

Surely if we were never meant to dance, then why all this music? And why is moving to music such an integral part of our being?

The problematization of dance

The estrangement of dancing in Western civilization can be traced back to the Middle Ages. Theologians and other religious establishment insiders associated dance with paganism, and wanted to differentiate themselves from such non-believers. They taught that wherever people dance, Satan is present. Saint Augustine in his exposition of Psalm 92 said “It is better to plough than to dance.”

When the religious establishment seared the wrongness of dance into societal consciousness, they unintentionally made churches vulnerable to the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon—aka the frequency illusion: we see more of that which our minds dwell upon. (One relatable example of the frequency illusion: should you buy a new car, you will immediately see cars just like it wherever you go, though you’d never noticed them before.)

What is certain is that some people began to see evil dancing everywhere. The dancing plague of 1518 in Strasbourg was an outbreak of nonstop dancing that could have been caused by stress induced mass hysteria, ergot poisoning, a few cases of mental illness, or maybe just people finding an excuse to have fun. Though there is little evidence that people actually danced themselves to death as some accounts claimed, anti-dancing religious leaders ascribed it all to evil causes.

Partial acceptance

Western civilizations—at least the secular parts of it—no longer see all dancing as problematic. Today waltz, tap dancing, ice dancing, tango, ballroom dancing—dancing generally—is accepted and celebrated. Some dances, like ballet, are regarded as societal markers of culture and sophistication. Native dances like the rain dance, sun dance, and war dance don’t yet enjoy big audiences, but they arouse more interest than they used to. Folk dancing is even allowed in performances at Adventist colleges. 

Yet there remains among certain religious communities the belief that dance is an evil that needs to be regulated. To this day some Christian universities prohibit or strongly discourage dancing among students. Some churches prohibit any dance-like movement in worship, and discourage it even in the private lives of parishioners. In these institutions, the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon remains at play: they still see all dance related to licentiousness, drunkenness, and all things unholy.

Missionaries to Africa, the continent where I was born, did precisely that. Our dances, in their view, were satanic, so they condemned all cultural dance. Biblical examples like the golden calf (Exodus 32:1-6) were the platform upon which the anti-dancing cry was and continues to be sounded.

But this is a fallacy, lacking nuance and context.

The biblical reality

Biblical narratives have a lot of dancing: 

Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing. Miriam sang to them: “Sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted” (Exodus 15:20-21).

Dancing is not just approved, but prescribed for worship in Psalm 149:3

Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with timbrel and harp.

Dancing was approved even in a parable of Jesus: 

“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing” Luke 15:25.

It is hermeneutical malpractice to read these instances as condemnatory. While Baal worshipers also danced as part of their religious routine (1 Kings 18:19,26) it was their religious worldview, not their dancing, that the Bible condemns.

How to dance

The words used to describe dance in the Old Testament don’t just say that people were dancing, but describe how they were dancing. “Raqad” (Ecclesiastes 3:4) means “to stomp” or “to spring about.” The same is true of “karar” in 2 Samuel 6:14, which translates “to whirl.” People weren’t just tapping a toe or swaying in place! They were moving!

Religious festivals like Passover and the Sabbath were punctuated with dancing. To the Jews of old, and still in contemporary Jewry, sacred processional dances were and remain an inseparable part of religious festivals. 

Jesus the Messiah participated in sacred events in Palestine that were seasons of joy and dancing. His first miracle was at a wedding, where dancing was always part of the festivities. Though I admit it is hard to picture Jesus whirling, no doubt as a Jewish man he participated in dances in which one would leap like a lamb and stomp one’s feet.

These dance-filled festivals that all Jews participated in continued into the Talmudic period (70–640 CE). Feasts were incomplete without dancing. Rabbis especially were known for dancing their hearts out at weddings and other religious ceremonies.

Dancing was not only a Jewish or biblical practice; all ancient civilizations did it. It wasn’t a system for false worship nor the outcome of it, but a state of being to express joy. People danced because they were human. It was fun! 

Appropriateness

One argument against dancing is appropriateness: how can we dance in the presence of a powerful creator God? We do not behave like that in the presence of earthly kings, so why should we in the presence of the king of kings? 

This line of reasoning fashions God’s kingship to the pattern of earthly kingship, which it is not. There is a temptation to make God in a human image. If dance is the native tongue of the soul, then it is a language God can understand. My inability to understand your preferred language should not be understood as God’s prohibition against that language.

Of course there are dances that are inappropriate for Christians; the kinds done in strip clubs are an extreme example. Many Christians got stuck on the dancing culture of the mid-century lounge style, where dancing could be flirtation or sexual conquest done under the influence of alcohol. 

Yes, using an intimate dance to win over a partner who isn’t your wife is outside of the Christian worldview. But to see that as the only example of moving to music shows a lack of cultural awareness. It is a fallacy to start with an artistic expression that one dislikes and then argue that all examples of it are in opposition to God. You’ve seen this argument used by some to discriminate against certain kinds of worship music. Your preferences projected upon others is not a good definition of what is appropriate. 

I would even argue that dancing that wouldn’t be appropriate for married people with someone else’s spouse, would be quite appropriate with your own spouse, or even for Christian single people who are courting.

Keep on dancing

For many of us there is a correlation between self-awareness and a reluctance to dance: society has defined dancing as a skill we must be good at to earn the right to do it. Add that professional religious practitioners have told us not to move our bodies rhythmically, that it is soul-corrupting and probably sinful. 

Thus, we have ceased to dance. And I think we’re missing out if we don’t let ourselves express the depths of our souls. 

Dance in church to express how God is transforming your soul. Dance while cooking or cleaning at home. Dance for exercise, and dance to celebrate with friends and family. Dance for no reason at all. Allow your body to move to commemorate the seasons of life. Dance like no one is watching!

And, believe it or not, some of us will have to loosen up and learn to dance to be ready for Jesus’ return! 

For surely the day is coming, burning like a furnace…But for you who respect my name, the sun of vindication will rise with healing wings, and you will dance about like calves released from the stall (Malachi 4:1-2).


Thandazani Mhlanga is a pastor, educator, speaker, and author who is a pastor in British Columbia. Thandazani and his wife, Matilda, have three girls who are the joy of their lives. His website is themscproject.com.

 

EDITORIAL: Love Is Not All We Need

I’m rather sick of love—of the word, at least. It’s been overused. Burned out. “Love” has come to mean whatever someone wants it to mean. That’s surely true in popular music, where the word appears in nearly every love song. 

But it’s equally true, I would argue, among Christians.

I remember a church member who approached me and said, “Pastor, I love you but…” and then dumped a massive load of cruel criticisms of me. What, I wondered, does “I love you” mean in that setting? It seemed merely to be a way to get her up to speed so she could slam the emotional stuffing out of me. 

(Of course, as the pastor, I was expected to take it, and surely not argue or defend myself. Because, after all, she said she was speaking to me with “love.”) 

You probably know that “love” in 1 Corinthians 13 is the Greek word agapē, which is roughly defined as loving the way God loves us. It’s significant that the King James Version renders it as “charity.” Charity isn’t a sentiment or a feeling. It’s an act of sacrificial kindness.

Here’s a possibility: whenever we see the word “love,” we could replace it with some form of the word “kindness.” Kindness is an act of good will, rather than just a cheap sentiment to justify some other kind of response.

And what is real love but sacrificial kindness? I know a couple where the wife became severely handicapped by one of those degenerative diseases of aging, and whose husband took care of her until she died—which included cleaning her up after unpleasant accidents almost daily. I’m sure he had always loved her, but it was his kind, sacrificial actions that showed real love. 

Perhaps if my angry critic had had to say, “Pastor, I want to do this kindness to you,” she might have had second thoughts. 

But maybe not. 

Loren Seibold
Adventist Today Executive Editor
3 February 2024

 

 

Aunty, must I wear a veil over my head in church?

Dear Aunt Sevvy,

Several women in our congregation have recently begun wearing veils over their heads to church, citing 1 Corinthians 11. They say it is to show respect to God and to their husbands, but mostly because the Apostle Paul said they should. 

They’re welcome to show reverence however they like, but they are becoming quite pushy, insisting the rest of us need to do the same—and that it is a matter of our salvation.

I should add that I don’t live in a culture like India or the Middle East, where head coverings for women are traditional.

What should I do, Aunty?

Signed, Only My Hair on My Head


Dear Only My Hair,

It never ceases to amaze Aunty how readily some Adventists adopt whatever custom from the past catches their fancy! 

Yet to be fully “biblical” they would have to change more than their head covering. Are they wearing only homespun robes? Have they quit using shampoo and skin-care products? Have they shut off their electricity and internet and thrown out their phones? Do they live in homemade houses of mud and stone? Do they milk goats? Do they reject antibiotics in favor of prayer alone? Do they get rid of cars and walk wherever they go? Do they give up reading? (Most women back then couldn’t read, nor did they have books.)

Of course not. You’ll notice that those who advocate such ideas don’t take everything from the past; they choose things they can employ to be “holier than thou,” and try to force them on everyone else.  They do the same thing with Ellen White’s counsels. 

These people can’t (or won’t) distinguish customs of a particular culture from biblical principles. Being respectful toward God while worshiping is a good principle. How you do that depends on the culture you live in. In the world Paul lived in, women covered their heads. That was 2,000 years ago! The culture you live in shows respect to both God and your spouse in very different ways. 

Aunty is sick of it. Please, Adventists: enough of this stupidity. Grow up. God doesn’t care what’s on your head. God cares how you treat others. 

Aunt Sevvy

 

 

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the tension between idealism and “the way things are.”

I’m a naturally sincere and optimistic person. I want to improve the world around me, and when I touch the lives of those around me I want that to be a net positive. I often make the mistake of believing that most people feel the same—that people are basically good, and if I live passionately, and authentically, with integrity and honesty, my efforts will be fruitful and appreciated.

But there’s a naivety to that worldview that sets me up for pain. We have all experienced being burned by someone we trusted, or realizing belatedly that someone doesn’t have good intentions.

How is one to balance between wanting to believe the best of people, but also being aware of humanity’s baser impulses?

I’m certainly not going to solve that age-old problem in this short editorial. But it reminds me that Jesus also wrestled with the paradox of light and darkness that exists in humans. He said in Matthew 10:16, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”

While that doesn’t exactly clear it up, it’s comforting to imagine Jesus thinking about these same issues. He seems to have realized that:

People are basically doing the best they can, we should approach people with the radical empathy of Jesus.

and at the same time…

People who want power will gain power, in whatever way they can, in any environment they’re in. Commitment to good isn’t necessarily absent, but it is secondary to gaining and maintaining power.

Both those things are true.

So the longer I live, the more I will keep trying to figure out what “shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves” means. And try to walk in the footsteps of Jesus

Lindsey Abston Painter
Writer and Editor, Adventist Today
20 January 2024

 

 

 

 

 

Aunty, is it wrong to have the dead body of a loved one cremated?

Dear Aunt Sevvy,

I have heard that some consider cremation to be a pagan practice. Does our church have a particular position on cremating dead bodies?

Signed, Funeral Planning


Dear Planning,

Some Christians say that God disapproves of burning the bodies of the dead. Arguments Aunty has heard include:

  • Saul, a disgraced king of Israel, was cremated, as was Achan, a thief.
  • Of the Bible’s heroes whose remains are mentioned, all were buried (though “burial” often meant placing the body in a cave, not covering it with soil; remember the tomb Jesus was placed in).
  • During the reign of Constantine cremation was identified with pagans, so Christians didn’t do it. 
  • Jews don’t cremate remains, and the Vatican discourages Roman Catholics from doing it. 

Aunty doesn’t think much of these arguments. Saul was burned because his body had been mutilated by the enemy, and Achan’s body was burned in anger. Just because Bible people put bodies in caves doesn’t mean we need to today. And what Christians of Constantine’s day, or Jews, or Roman Catholics do, for whatever reasons, isn’t required of us.

What you (or your family) decide to do with a dead body is up to you; there is no definitive biblical statement on the matter, nor has the Seventh-day Adventist Church taken a stand. We know God doesn’t need original material to bring people to life in the resurrection: think of all the faithful Christian martyrs who were burned at the stake or eaten by animals, not to mention the many Christians whose bodies were lost at sea.

If you find the concept of cremation objectionable, then opt for the traditional embalming, coffin and marker stone. But be aware that the funerary industry loves for people to buy expensive furniture to hold the corpses of their loved ones, and then bury it all in the ground with a carved stone above it—it makes them a lot of money. Billions of dead bodies take up countless acres of land, for no scripturally defensible reason. 

Aunty prefers her remains to disappear, and trusts that God has the power to resurrect her. What you choose to do is up to you, but there is no convincing argument against cremation. 

Aunt Sevvy

I understand why ancient societies in the Northern Hemisphere celebrated the winter solstice. When life and livelihood depended on the sun, noting when daylight began to incrementally conquer darkness was something to be celebrated. Sure, the ancients knew they still had to endure months of cold and darkness before they could shed their heavy clothes and the warmth of their fireside hearths. But at least they had something for which to look forward.

Count me as one of those who look forward to shorter nights and longer daylight. For me, it’s not surprising that early Christians found it convenient to combine the wonder of Jesus’ birth with the inevitability of summer’s bounty and fall’s harvest. They knew that even in darkest winter (according to tradition), the Sun of righteousness had been born to chase away sin and ignorance.

I know that some are too offended by the pagan rituals traditionally attached to Jesus’ birth to truly enjoy the spirit of this season. Some would rather focus on the darkness that envelops the earth than on the light that lightens humanity. But it’s precisely when it’s dark and cold that we have to live this world’s light, as well as celebrate it.
Anyone can look at what’s happening in the world and feel outrage at the violence, brutality, ignorance, poverty, and degradation of the planet and its resources. The larger question is how we can “live as children of light” (Eph. 5:8). What light can we bring to this world’s darkness?

For too long we Christians have been content to light candles and sing about light. Perhaps it’s time to roll up our sleeves, open our wallets, and address the real problems of those who live in our communities. It’s service “to the least of these” that merits heaven’s approval and earns the invitation: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world” (Matt. 25:34).

Yes, it’s dark. Yes, it’s cold (for most of us). But “for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays” (Mal. 4:2).

Thank you for your continued support of Adventist Today.

Stephen Chavez
AT Adjunct Editor

 

SATIRE: Seating Charts Made Official at Adventist Churches

ADVENTIST WORLD — For the first time in Adventist history, churches will feature official seating charts.

Each member will have an assigned seat, and visitors will be seated at the very front of the sanctuary where the entire congregation can keep an eye on them.

General Conference Director of Church Rigidity Mas Reglas pushed back on complaints that seating charts were an unnecessary intrusion into church life.

“Our churches have had unofficial seating charts from as long back as I can remember,” said Reglas. “Members can get super-territorial about where they sit. So we just decided to make things official.”

Reglas explained that all congregations will be required to print their seating charts on the back of their church bulletins.

He directed churches to select their biggest deacon to act as the “Sabbath Bouncer” in case anyone disobeyed the chart.

This article originally appeared on BarelyAdventist, a humor and satire site for Adventists who believe in laughter.

 

 

Dear Aunt Sevvy

Is it appropriate for Christians to display a menorah in their home, to light the candles as Jews do and say a prayer? Perhaps some Adventists would frown on this, but our family finds meaning in this ritual.

Signed, Holiday Seeker


Dear Seeker,

Hanukkah, as you no doubt know, commemorates the rededication of the second temple in the 2nd century BCE as described in the apocryphal book 1 Maccabees.  (Scholars have recently learned, to their immense surprise, that Ellen White read and approved of the apocrypha!)

The Talmud, a Jewish commentary, adds the story that at the dedication there was only enough holy oil left to burn the dedicatory lamp for one day, but it lasted for eight days! It’s sometimes called the “miracle of the lights,” and is commemorated by lighting a nine-branched candelabra called a menorah. 

Aunty sees nothing wrong with appropriating rituals from this closely related religious culture into your own holiday celebrations, especially since Hanukkah has deep ties to Christianity. 

Jesus was a Jew. His divine mission was predicted in the Hebrew scriptures. During his life he was closely associated with the second temple: according to the gospels he was dedicated there, affirmed his calling there as a child, and as an adult taught and did miracles in its vicinity. In some ways he respected the temple more than the Jewish leaders did. He also used the temple as an example of his own death and resurrection. 

We needn’t question the veracity of the miracle of the lights because we know that God did miracles among the Jewish people. This particular miracle is a lesson about God’s faithfulness to his people in hard times. It is also a reminder that light triumphs over darkness, which was a frequent illustration in the gospel of John for Jesus’ ministry.

Your Christian family isn’t alone in celebrating Hanukkah: here is one of several websites that has ideas for a Christian Hanukkah. 

Happy holidays! 

Aunt Sevvy

 

 

 

Aunty, why do the genealogies of Jesus end with Joseph—who wasn’t Jesus’ actual father?

 

Dear Aunt Sevvy,

The prophets said that the Messiah would be the son of David, from the tribe of Judah. The book of Matthew traces the genealogy from Abraham, and in Luke from Adam. But all of them lead to Joseph—and Joseph was not Jesus‘ father, he was Jesus‘ adoptive father! 

Yet Mary was the important figure in this event, wasn‘t she? The only information about Mary is that her cousin Elisabeth was a descendant of Aaron, which is the tribe of Levi.

As a woman, I wonder why there is so little about Mary’s family?

Signed, Daughter of God


Dear Daughter,

A great many lines have been penned, from the first century onward, trying to resolve Jesus’ ancestry—which is why Aunty cannot, she regrets, give you a definitive answer. Some reflections, for what they’re worth:

  • Even conservative scholars admit that the genealogies weren’t meant to be precise. They were composed to demonstrate that Jesus was the fulfillment of prophecy. That doesn’t necessarily mean that great Bible figures weren’t in Jesus’ genealogical line, but it’s pretty easy to see that even Matthew’s and Luke’s genealogies don’t match, and neither aligns perfectly with the genealogies in the Old Testament. 
  • The Bible is a male book, written by men, and women were given short shrift from the beginning of it. The point: genealogical descent only counted if men were named. 
  • Surprisingly, though, four women get honorable mention in Matthew’s genealogy: Tamar (who pretended to be a prostitute to get pregnant from her father-in-law), Rahab (a gentile prostitute), Ruth (a gentile who, some said, seduced Boaz) and Bathsheba (who was married to a Gentile until she had an adulterous liaison with King David). This wasn’t accidental, say scholars: the author wanted to give these “bad” women legitimacy—as well as draw a parallel with Mary, who was also accused of being immoral.
  • There is a minority view, too complicated to go into here, that Matthew records Joseph’s genealogy, but Luke records Mary’s—and that a patriarchal scribe replaced Mary’s name with Joseph’s. Note, for example, that Joseph has a different father in Luke than in Matthew.

There is a ton of information about this in commentaries. Aunty doubts it matters, though, to those of us whose love for Jesus has to do with what he said and what he did, not who his ancestors were.

Aunt Sevvy

 

 

 

Did Anyone Actually See the Three Angels?

 

By Loren Seibold  |  7 December 2023  |  

The year was 1844; the date, October 22—a Tuesday. A group of Millerite believers had been having a prayer service in a barn in western New York. Their sincere expectation—that Jesus would return that night—had been thus far disappointed. 

One member of the group, a farmer named Hiram Edson, left the barn and wandered out across an adjacent field of corn. As he stood there wondering why Jesus hadn’t returned, he suddenly saw an enormous, blindingly bright angel flying across the sky in front of him. The angel said, in a voice so loud that he could hear it—along with millions of others all over the world: 

Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.

Hiram Edson immediately knew that this was the beginning of a judgment taking place in heaven. He, and all of those who heard the angel’s announcement, began to preach the commencement of the investigative judgment in heaven’s Most Holy Place. 

Of course, billions of people heard the voice, and were converted instantly by the heavenly voice alone!

Wait a minute—that never happened! 

In fact, no one—not one person across the face of the earth—reported seeing or hearing a flying, shouting angel that night! 

But why didn’t they? Revelation 14:6-7 says it happened, and Adventists are convinced that the date was correct. Then why did no one report this visible, audible sign?

In fact, contrary to the popular story of Hiram Edson, the doctrine of the investigative judgment so beloved by traditional Adventists wasn’t arrived at in that cornfield; it took decades to develop. 

Things we take literally

Adventists take a great many things from the Bible quite literally.

Creation, for example. In recent years creation was much discussed at a General Conference session. Not about God’s being the creator—concerning that, we agree—but advocating a rigidly literal reading of Genesis 1. The earth was declared, by a vote of a group made up mostly of Seventh-day Adventist clergymen, to have been created in seven actual 24-hour days. (Though it didn’t make it into the final draft, some had advocated for voting that it happened 6000 years ago—because they take the Ussher chronology literally, too.)

Another interesting literalism is the notion that the sanctuary on earth, the tent that the Hebrew wanderers carried across the desert with them, has a precise copy (animal skin curtains and all) in heaven. It isn’t clear which structure came first, but probably the one in heaven, since Moses was given his blueprints by God. 

So if these words describe something real and actual, it isn’t at all unreasonable to ask: did a real angel fly through the sky announcing the investigative judgment one night in 1844, followed by another loud angel when the Millerite believers left their apostate churches the following year, and then another angelic announcement at the acceptance of the Sabbath around 1847? 

Please don’t dismiss the question. We need to explore why we take some images in the Bible—in the prophecies in particular—as actual descriptions of real events, and others as symbols. 

Revelation

Revelation is a mishmash of pictures, some of which we say are real and others we insist are merely metaphors. 

No Adventist has ever expressed doubt about Revelation 1:7: “Look, he is coming with the clouds,” and “every eye will see him.” But what of the description of Jesus that accompanies it? I can picture the white-robed white-haired Jesus until we get to 

His eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. 

Literal or symbolic? I have seen this rendered by artists as though Jesus, when he is ministering in heaven, looks just like this, right down to the sword tongue—and who can say for sure that he doesn’t? 

Revelation 2 and 3, the messages to the seven churches, sound historical and I assume they are. But starting in chapter 4, we again encounter bizarre heavenly creatures: 24 thrones with 24 undescribed “elders,” next to four “living creatures”—a lion, an ox, a man, a flying eagle—“covered with eyes, in front and in back” each with “six wings… covered with eyes all around, even under its wings.”

Is this really how the throne room in heaven looks? Because it is not entirely dissimilar to the vision Ezekiel saw centuries earlier, could it be an actual description?

The book proceeds in similar surrealism through seven “seals” and seven “trumpets” (this last set which Ellen White never addresses, and no Adventist eschatologist, for all they expound on other chapters in the book, has offered a satisfying explanation.)

Of the seals, we Adventists acknowledge the four horsemen of the apocalypse, which we say represent early evangelism, followed by periods of war, famine and death. We see them as symbols of historical eras. Yet why couldn’t there have been actual horsemen thundering across the sky—apart from that no one claimed to have seen them at the historical pivot points? 

Of the sixth seal, there was agreement among our pioneers that the great earthquake, the sun turning dark, the moon turning to blood and the stars falling, were real events. But the same passage also speaks of the heavens “receding like a scroll being rolled up,” with “every mountain and island removed from its place.” Here, within a single sentence, we slip out of the historical, for no such catastrophe happened in conjunction with the preceding signs—which signs are by now two centuries past.

Uriah Smith, who to this day is rarely contradicted, declared the 144,000 of Revelation 7 to be precisely 144,000 actual people, “gathered from the last generation before Christ comes.” Though he danced rather daintily around precisely how they would show up, he did anticipate seeing 

Elder James White, Elder J. N. Andrews, and Elder Joseph Bates, who led out in the beginning of this work, who identified themselves as fully as men could with this message, whose whole souls were absorbed in the grand thought of helping to call out a sufficient number to join them in the work to make up the privileged and happy company of 144,000…

As for Revelation 13, I don’t know anyone who thinks that God crafted a beast somewhere with seven leopard heads, a bear’s feet, and ten horns with ten crowns to represent the papacy. Of course, Adventist artists eagerly paint pictures of Daniel’s and Revelation’s beasts, and in some cases even make statues, because even if the beasts aren’t literal we find some satisfaction in thinking of them with dimensionality. 

Interestingly, that second beast of Revelation 13, the one with a lamb’s horns but spoke like a lion, and represented the United States of America? Some Adventist interpreters pictured it as an American bison. Yes, it was a symbol, and a rather on-the-nose one; because while traveling across Wyoming by train at the time you could see the second beast of Revelation 13 out of your coach window!

Real or symbolic?

So we circle back to Revelation 14. What was the point of the loud voices if it wasn’t for people to hear? Certainly God isn’t hard of hearing. And why fly “in the midst of heaven” if it was not for the earth’s inhabitants to see? 

I ask again: why did no one down here hear and see them?

Many are going to say that I’m inventing a problem. They will say that it’s obvious in apocalyptic literature which pictures are real and which are metaphorical: the wild and crazy ones that don’t need to be real or that we can’t quite imagine being real are, ergo, metaphorical or symbolic. The beasts, for example: there is no convincing reason for them to have ever actually existed, for all that we Adventists have rendered them in living color. 

But is a mile-tall city with mile-high gates made of precious stones coming down out of heaven, with the wicked dead resurrected and gathered about trying to take down the holy city with Satan as their commanding general, any more realistic than an angel streaking across the night sky in 1844 proclaiming judgment in a loud voice? 

Which leads to another very important distinction: whether the biblical descriptions are meant for the future, the past, or a historical present. The panorama of creation is far enough in the past that we find it easy to say it was called forth ex nihilo by the voice of God. The descent of the New Jerusalem is reserved for a far distant future.

But in the present, we have a hard time claiming anything so spectacular, because we can’t produce witnesses. The best argument for there not being three actual Adventist angels crying forth with loud voices (or, for that matter, four actual horsemen of the apocalypse) is that no one, to my knowledge, saw or heard any of them. The first angel’s announcement was a metaphor for something rather more mundane: a group of people with a fresh eschatological teaching.

A needed distinction

Take this lesson only as seriously as needed for the purpose of understanding how we interpret the prophecies—how we divide the literal and actual from the metaphorical and symbolic. It appears to me that we interpret the prophecies, literal or metaphorical, not on their own merits, but to confirm what our pioneers and Ellen White said. 

I’m also suggesting that if the angels aren’t real—if they are metaphors for Adventists proclaiming an apocalyptic message—then perhaps other biblical descriptions, such as a literal six day creation 6000 years ago, needn’t be real, either. Perhaps even the return of Christ and the events leading up to it could be something other than the terrifying spectacle our evangelists have led us to fear. Perhaps a great many of the Bible’s pictures aren’t meant to be real, but should be studied for their spiritual import. In the words of the Bible scholar John Dominic Crossan,

My point, once again, is not that those ancient people told literal stories and we are now smart enough to take them symbolically, but that they told them symbolically and we are now dumb enough to take them literally.


Loren Seibold is the Executive Editor of Adventist Today.

 

 

 

Dear Aunt Sevvy,

I recently heard an Adventist pastor say that the rise of the Adventist church is prophesied in the Bible. Is this true? 

Signed, Curious Bible Student


Dear Curious,

The “proof” that the Seventh-day Adventist church is God’s only true church is based on two texts read together. The first is Revelation 14:12, which says,

Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.

Keeping the commandments of God is understood to mean keeping the fourth commandment, in particular. The second part, “the faith of Jesus,” is interpreted through Revelation 19:10:

For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.

“The spirit of prophecy” is understood solely as the ministry of Ellen G. White.

Together, these two things unique to our church—the Sabbath and Ellen White—are used to say that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is not only specially chosen by God, but that other churches are inferior to ours in regard to God’s favor and receiving salvation.

While this is one interpretation, let Aunty suggest another. The testimony of Jesus is simply what it sounds like: the story and teachings of Jesus Christ. The word translated “testimony” is in Greek martyria. In 1 John 5:12, John describes martyria this way: 

And this is the testimony (martyria), that God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He that has the Son hath life; and he that has not the Son of God has not life.

This, to Aunty, makes more sense. Those who don’t put Jesus first in their lives (and Aunty knows Adventists who appear to idolize Ellen White even above Jesus) are missing the point. Ellen White can’t save us. Jesus can.

As for keeping the commandments of God, let’s remember that there are many more commandments than the fourth one. Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, for example, should be even more important to Christians than those in Exodus 20.

The traditional interpretation has made the Seventh-day Adventist Church arrogant. Some act as if no matter what this church does, it is always right because it is chosen by God—even when it is unjust or unkind to people. Remember what happened to the group who thought themselves God’s chosen people in Old Testament times, and what Jesus said about them?

Aunt Sevvy

 

 

 

 

Aunty, is God more likely to answer prayers when many people are praying for the same thing?

27 November 2023  |

Dear Aunt Sevvy,

Is God more likely to answer prayer if hundreds or thousands of people are praying for the same thing?

Signed, Needing answers

Dear Needing Answers,

There is a persistent view—probably because of passages such as John 14:13—that prayer is a way to get things done: that if we pray for a person’s cancer to go away, perhaps it will; or if we pray to be spared a hurricane, it might veer away and hit some other coastal city; or if we pray for travel mercies, our airplane won’t crash; or if we pray for guidance, we will make perfect choices that we’ll never regret. 

What follows in the minds of some Christians is that the more prayers, the more pressure we put on God, the harder we beg, the more compelled God will feel to give us what we want. Aunty has been part of prayer events where many, many people are all praying for someone or something. Occasionally, the subject of the prayer recovers from illness, or the thing we’re praying for resolves as we want it to. Some desires, such as safety while traveling, are a good bet for positive answers, since extremely few airplanes crash. The success of other prayers, such as praying for the right job or the right spouse, can be hard to evaluate, because people tend to rationalize their responses to the situation—for example, God put me in this job to teach me something; or the failure of the marriage is my fault, not God’s. 

But some prayers simply aren’t answered as we want them to be. Aunty has seen congregations lose faith when they invest heavily in praying for someone who doesn’t get healed. In fact, certain healing prayers, such as regrowing a lost limb, God appears never to answer in the affirmative. 

Yet we keep asking for specific things from God because sometimes our prayers seem to be answered (and yes, there is more than a hint of behavioral conditioning here).

The Bible recommends prayer. But it also warns that more and louder words don’t mean more of God’s attention:

When you pray, don’t babble on and on as the Gentiles do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. After all, God, who is your Father, knows your needs before you ask him (Matthew 6:7-8).

Isaiah says that doing the right thing is more important than fasting and prayer:

Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? … Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Isaiah 58:4-5

And please note that when Jesus prayed, his key phrase was,

…yet not my will, but yours be done (Luke 22:42).

In Aunty’s study of prayer, she’s come to the conclusion that fixing things isn’t the highest purpose of prayer. Prayer is used correctly:

  • when it brings us closer to God’s will, rather than talking God into doing what we want done.
  • when it motivates us to do all we can in our human power to fix a situation (such as going to the doctor, comforting those in grief, or helping those in poverty).
  • when it brings us into harmony with one another as a praying community
  • when we ask for forgiveness and salvation, which God promises to grant readily

When there is a need for healing or safety or guidance, Aunty instead prays for acceptance of God’s will and the peace of God’s presence—whether she’s praying for herself, or for others.

Aunt Sevvy

 

 

 

by Joni Bell  |  14 November 2023  |  

It’s 11:00 AM on Sabbath morning. I’ve slept late. I’m comfortable in my “sweats” and carry a hot drink in my hands. I haven’t fussed with my hair or make-up. My husband is similarly clad in relaxing garb as he and I casually discuss where we might “go to church” today. 

Our choices are endless. We can pick one of the large university churches in the denomination or even our small congregation in Maine. Feeling like some beautiful orchestral music? We know which church to choose. Some upbeat gospel music? Not a problem. The sky is the limit. How about one of our favorite speakers who never fails to inspire us but is not part of our denomination? It’s like a smorgasbord of worship delights and we can choose any one we want. Maybe we will join an online discussion group on the book of John. 

We snuggle into our comfortable couch and pick up the remote. Oh, and let me add this: I have no responsibilities! Has the special music arrived? Is the teen-ager I asked to have scripture prepared? Are the visitors being greeted, given a bulletin and invited to the fellowship dinner, etc. . . No worries with my “Online Church.” I can just relax and enjoy the blessing of an excellent discussion group or sermon, and it can be the venue of my choosing. 

With Covid closing many of our churches over the course of a year or so, I really got into my new Sabbath experience. In fact, I must confess to feeling mildly depressed when churches started gathering again. I was quite satisfied with our “pandemic routine” and frankly, not inclined to go back to attending in person. I started to run out of excuses to actually show up. 

Now, before you judge me too harshly, I don’t think I’m alone in this attitude. Many, maybe most, congregations are not back to what they were pre-pandemic. Churches report that they have lost some of their core people as well as some of the marginal attendees. The reality? Virtual church has met the needs of many who have stopped attending church in person. Pew Research Center Survey shows about 25% of U.S adults regularly watch religious services online or on TV, and most of them are highly satisfied with the experience. 

Still involved?

I am, however, personally troubled by a question—a personal question, not primarily a question of institutional strategy. If I participate online, am I going to be as committed or connected as if I were attending in person? 

There are some pretty good reasons for staying home as opposed to attending in person. I can watch two or three sermons and participate in a discussion group over the Sabbath hours. The time spent getting ready and then traveling to church can be better spent. I feel so much more relaxed and “rested” when I stay home, and isn’t that the purpose of the Sabbath—to rest? Is there any value to the effort of doing spiritual life in person as opposed to online?

So let me try to apply reason to the question. To think this through. Clearly, podcasts, Christian TV, and online church are enriching our spiritual lives. Can they take the place of community in the local church? I recognize the contribution of connection with others and the community experienced in presence with others. I am blessed in doing life with others. That happens in the church community. The diversity within the church enriches the communal experience. Each person has something unique to offer. Other Christians teach me, encourage me, and pray for me. Yes, often they irritate me. Living with that challenge offers personal growth. 

And I am vulnerable to attacks of loneliness, doubts, and unbelief when I am without a church community. When I ask myself who I would call at midnight for help, it is inevitably a fellow Christian who is part of my Christian fellowship. 

My reflection? I am inspired by the online connection, but I miss the community.

My spiritual growth is enriched when being nurtured through deep connections with others. When we share struggles and triumphs, it helps us on our journey. Studying scripture with others helps me see the teachings of Jesus in fresh and deeper ways. 

Loving one another

Let me be real. I struggle with truly loving some of the people with whom I am in relationship at church. Let me explain. That homeless person I serve breakfast to at our local shelter. No problem. I love them. I truly empathize with them and their circumstances. That person sitting next to me on the pew; the one who always takes the fundamentalists’ view of scripture or is quick to judge? Not so much! 

Love one another? Maybe there is something here for me, for us, in the call Jesus extended. It’s not just loving people in general; it’s loving specifically the people that we are in relationship with, yes, those folk at church with all of our shared flaws. There are a thousand minor, trivial offenses we pass over when we love one another. We don’t bear grudges or get offended easily. We forgive quickly. 

Ah. I find myself praying for the grace of God when trying to do life together with other believers. That is costly and calls me to spiritual growth. 

Then there is another reason to personally engage in a local community of believers. I am thinking of God-given abilities that empower us to serve. And as a church body we can more effectively meet people’s needs together. Children’s church is a blessing to children. Social events meet the needs of some who are lonely. Some need to ask questions of faith to a group of other – in person. Some long for a visit in their homes. There are so many ways I can serve as a connected member in a church congregation.

Gathering in person is the biblical and historical pattern set for us by the first followers of Jesus. They shared a community together. The New Testament contains many letters sent to these church communities that gathered in various cities. These letters were read aloud together. Together. 

Some who meet online as a Bible study group describe the fellowship and community they have found. Perhaps the question is more complex than “online” or “in person.” Is it possible that we could attend in person and not find community, service, or spiritual growth? Building a meaningful in-person worshiping community is a challenge! And I would think building a meaningful Christian community of believers and seekers engaging online is at least an equal challenge. Is it possible that online services have offered an escape from the challenge of building a serving spiritual community?

The Christian community

Then the essential nature of our call to Christian community remains. To worship together, grow in fellowship with one another, to serve together. Whether online or in person.

Long story short, I’ve gone back to in-person church attendance. However, I’m not quite the same as I was pre-Covid. There are some traditions and rituals I am less patient with. Stand up, sit down, kneel, stand back up, dress like this, etc. And I am even more committed to our gathering’s being centered in Jesus, in grace, and with less judgment. I am less patient with the pronouncements of anti-science, climate change deniers and LGBTQ haters. I don’t have the wisdom or energy to pronounce judgement on who is righteous and who is a sinner. I simply want to follow Jesus’ command to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. And to serve “the least of these.” To address issues of justice in our community. I seek help from my church in answering that call. 

Yes, there are valid reasons for going to church in person. But consider what we have learned from the years of the pandemic, and how it can make us stronger. How it impacts our mission.

People seeking answers to spiritual questions have multiple options, and different pathways are available to them today. A society that prefers streaming information presents challenge and opportunity. And in this age we do form connection with streamed sources differently than watching a TV episode or listening to a radio program. The desire to connect remains, although it is now often virtual and experienced via the internet. 

If we foster a belief that a person cannot engage in community without physical presence, we create a barrier in forming connection with and sharing the Gospel with many in today’s world. My experience is that virtual worship experiences can play a part in our spiritual growth. It is also true that almost everyone who attends your church for the first time has already visited online. They’ve checked us out! They have visited our website and maybe even read our Google reviews. 

No, I have not divorced online church. The love affair continues. However, I am also an active participant in my local church. What a blessing they both are to me, and our community at large.


Joni Bell is a contented wife and homemaker with a dodgy past as a psychiatric nurse. She divides her time between Maine and Tennessee.

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Aunt Sevvy,

A lot of Adventists seem to have forgotten that Sabbath is precisely sunset to sunset. God set the boundaries of the Sabbath, and that’s how we should be keeping it if we want to please God. What do you say, Aunty?

Signed, True Sabbath Keeper


Dear Keeper:

The Sabbath is a blessing to Aunty. Yet some Adventists, Aunty thinks, diminish the blessing by being entirely too persnickety about it, in a way that is more like conservative Jews than Christians. 

Let’s take your point of the Sabbath’s beginning and end. The usual proof text is Leviticus 23:32: “From evening… until the following evening, you are to observe your Sabbath.” That’s not as clear as you might think. 

  • The full text actually says, “From the evening of the ninth day of the month until the following evening you are to observe your sabbath.” You don’t only keep Sabbath when it falls on the ninth day of the month! In fact, this text wasn’t about the seventh-day sabbath, but the day of atonement! 
  • What is “evening”? Nehemiah says “when evening shadows began to fall,” the gates were closed. Is that the same as sunset? Some rabbis (who were as persnickety as Adventists about such matters) didn’t take it to mean sundown; they said that it began at darkness, defined as when the first three stars could be discerned. 
  • There is even a biblical argument (explained here in Andrews University Seminary Studies) that the day begins at sunrise rather than sundown!
  • What does it mean to “keep” the Sabbath? The rabbis had 39 categories of prohibited work, including travel, agriculture, textile work, writing, starting a fire—virtually any kind of effort. You, “True Sabbath Keeper,” couldn’t have turned up your thermostat, warmed your food, opened the refrigerator, stitched a loose button back on your dress shirt, made notes for your Sabbath School class, or driven your car to church!
  • Ellen White initially wanted to define Sabbath time as 6 PM Friday to 6 PM Saturday—what Joseph Bates called “equatorial time.” That surely would have made things easier for those who lived near or above the Arctic Circle. The sunsetters won the vote, though, and she eventually endorsed them.

Given all these uncertainties, Aunty thinks we ought not to be so critical about such Sabbath details. Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made as a blessing to humankind, not humankind to serve the Sabbath.”

Aunt Sevvy

 

 

by Patricia Johnston  |  10 November 2023  |  

A few days ago, as I was making my way through the Chronological Bible daily reading plan, I came to a story we’ve all heard many times: the story of the transfiguration of Jesus. As familiar as the story is, this time I saw something different, something I had not noticed before. 

The story tells of Jesus’ taking Peter, James and John “up a high mountain.” To the astonishment of these three men, Jesus’ appearance changed right in front of them. His face “shone like the sun,” and his clothes were “far brighter than any earthly bleach could ever make them. 

We’ve often heard of Peter’s being rather impulsive, speaking or acting perhaps before thinking. The Scripture here says, “Peter, not even knowing what he was saying, blurted out, ‘Master, it’s wonderful for us to be here! Let’s make three shelters as memorials – one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’” 

Even as he was giving expression to his misguided wishes, “a cloud overshadowed them, and terror gripped them.” From that cloud came the voice of God plainly heard by those three disciples, saying “This is my son, whom I love. Listen to him.” And then these words: “Suddenly, when they looked around, Moses and Elijah were gone, and they saw only Jesus with them.” 

What we listen to

Note this line: “This is my son. Listen to him.” There is an awful lot of information and, yes, misinformation floating around us today. It certainly comes from the various news entities, in print, increasingly generated by AI, in digital formats, and via the air waves. It’s all too easy to get caught up watching the news one way or the other, one falsehood after another, one horrible story after another, on and on. 

I just can’t believe that watching those reports hour after hour, day after day, true as some of them might be, is spiritually healthful for us. I’m not saying we should sneak away to a hidden spot and ignore completely what is surrounding us in the world, but it seems we might be better able to “listen to him” if we listened less to all that. In fact, if we listened more to Jesus, we would better understand what is going on around us, what is happening in this old world. We would better understand what he wants us to be doing while we wait for his return. “This is my son, listen to him.” 

But note too, information—and yes, misinformation—also comes via purported religious papers, sources we’re supposed to be able to rely on for truth. It too, comes over the airwaves and on the screen and in print, one preachment after another. Telling us “listen to me, send me your money.” When they should be saying, “This is God’s son, whom he loves. Listen to him.”

We individually need to listen to Jesus. Really listen to Jesus. That means reading our Bibles for ourselves, reading in more than one version. Thinking about what we’re reading. Read the Gospels. Let Jesus speak to you, individually. Listen to him.

Only Jesus

Another thing that struck me as I read the text were the words, “They saw no man, save Jesus only.” No man. “Only Jesus.” Our world seems filled with men vying for our attention, for our money, for our loyalty—seeking to take our attention from the only one who deserves it, Jesus. 

It certainly happens in politics and entertainment, but just as certainly it happens in churches as well. A new program here, a different evangelistic approach there, but too often the focus is on the man and his showmanship. “The disciples saw no man.” What do we see? 

Often I’ve heard it said that Moses represents those who die before Jesus comes again, but are resurrected at his return, while Elijah represents those who will be alive at his return. But I wonder if there might be another way of looking at them. 

The law

Perhaps we might let Moses represent the law, and Elijah the prophets/prophecy. Our church spent a good deal of time in the past on the law until Ellen White said, “We have been at work on the law until we got as dry as the hills of Gilboa without dew or rain,” [Letters & Manuscripts Vol 6 (1889-1890): MS 10, 1890] and the church still is, it seems, interpreting the “law” and applying it—or trying to apply it—in various church situations. 

Sadly, those attempts have driven some away from what seems an overly legalistic and unloving focus. Our church has tried to expand the “law” through various ways not dissimilar from those of the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. They had 39 categories of work that were prohibited on the Sabbath, but each category had subdivisions that gave in great detail what could and could not be done on the Sabbath. All told, according to Jewish tradition there were 613 commandments contained in the Torah.

The Seventh-day Adventist church currently has 28 items that one is to attest to believing before baptism, with more suggested to be added. I wonder if we will reach the 613 commandments contained in the Torah? Now you may say that the 28 are not commandments, but I wonder. How are they used? Are we looking to “Moses” or to Jesus? To 28 Beliefs or to the two commandments Jesus gave?

The prophecies

Similarly, our church has spent a great deal of time and energy and resources on the prophets and prophecy. And it still does. It seems too often Jesus is quite forgotten in the programming. Some seem constantly to be looking for some new way to portray menacing and ugly beasts on billboards and advertising flyers, images that appeal to those who are attracted by sensationalism.

But that was not Jesus’ way. In Power Through Prayer, E.M. Bounds wrote, 

The church is looking for better methods; God is looking for better men.  . . .  What the church needs today is not more machinery or better, not new organizations or more and novel methods, but men whom the Holy Ghost can use—men of prayer, men mighty in prayer. The Holy Ghost does not flow through methods, but through men. He does not come on machinery, but on men. He does not anoint plans, but men—men of prayer. 

Of course, in every instance where Bounds used the term “men” we would today say “men and women” or just “people.” We might add, people who saw only Jesus, people who listened to him. 

So, my question is, do we see “only Jesus”? Do we “listen to him” or are we still caught up in Moses and Elijah, the law and prophecy, and making memorials to them? I’m not suggesting that we forget the law or the prophets, but that we put them in their proper space: that we see Jesus first. That we share Jesus first. Of course, it is easy to ask others if they see only Jesus, but I must ask myself first, do I see only Jesus? Do I listen to him?

“They saw only Jesus.” How wonderful it would be if our church were known because people saw Jesus in it. They saw Jesus in our Sabbath School classes, in the sermons preached, at the potluck dinners, but more, in the lives of the people who attend week by week. 


Patricia Johnston is professor emeritus and former dean of the school of Public Health at Loma Linda University. A retired nutritionist, she was intimately involved in developing the International Congresses on Vegetarian Nutrition and is passionate about sharing the potential benefits and/or problems associated with plant-based diets. She is married to Joe Humble, also a retired educator.

 

 

 

In the wake of Hurricane Otis’s destruction in Acapulco, Mexico, the Seventh-day Adventist Church and the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) have swiftly organized aid efforts for the storm-ravaged community, according to a recent article on the Inter-American Division news website. The Category 5 hurricane, which made landfall on October 25, 2023, has been deemed the most severe storm to hit the region, claiming over two dozen lives, affecting upwards of half a million homes and businesses, and causing widespread power outages.

With Acapulco in dire need, the Church acted promptly, delivering a truck loaded with food and basic necessities only two days after the disaster, aiming to support the hundreds of church members impacted. Pastor Abraham Sandoval, the president of the Inter-Oceanic Mexican Union, has been actively coordinating relief operations with the South Pacific Conference administrators. These efforts are vital as the city grapples with depleted pharmacies and grocery stores, unable to meet the urgent demand for food and medicine.

Over 2,000 church members across 30 congregations in Acapulco have been affected, yet no casualties within the membership have been reported. The Central Adventist Church in Acapulco, which suffered minor damage, is serving as the distribution hub for the ongoing relief efforts. The nearby 16 de Septiembre Adventist School also was damaged and will remain closed pending detailed damage assessments.

Further assistance is on the way with two additional trucks of supplies en route to Acapulco. Church leaders have acknowledged that the road to recovery will be lengthy, with many families requiring basic necessities as well as home essentials such as mattresses and covers.

Simultaneously, ADRA Mexico’s Emergency Response Team is preparing for action, pending official clearance to enter Acapulco. Supported by ADRA International and Inter-America, the agency plans to provide targeted aid following thorough on-site assessments. Notably, ADRA Mexico has secured prepaid cards for 430 families and is collaborating with UNICEF to coordinate a health team.

The situation in Acapulco remains critical, with the airport shut down, the main hospital destroyed, and the transportation infrastructure severely compromised, isolating many communities. In response, ADRA Mexico has initiated a fundraising campaign on social media to support the affected areas. Updates on the humanitarian aid and ongoing projects can be accessed here.

 

 

 

(Stephen Chavez was associate pastor here in Fortuna 1974-75.)

It’s a familiar trope in action television and movie scripts. A group of intrepid survivors slogs through dark and threatening dangers. Suddenly one of them experiences a melt-down: “It’s no use,” they whine. “We’ll never survive!”

Then someone in the group yells, “Get a grip!” and slaps the cowardly team member. “We’re going to make it,” they shout. “We just have to work together.”

Those who have been following recent Adventist publications and pronouncements have doubtless heard some variation of the sentiment: “We’re not going to make it!” What follows is a catalogue of imagined threats to our survival as a movement: evolution, ecumenism, textual-historical criticism of the Bible, conversations about gender orientation, or the role of science in the life of faith. The implication is that our very existence is at risk.

Then is often quoted: “We have nothing to fear for the future, except as we shall forget how the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history” (Life Sketches of Ellen G. White, p. 196), as if Adventism’s best days are somehow preserved in the past, like amber.

The church’s most influential voices seemed determined to preserve a deluded version of the past; incapable of understanding that time does not stand still. Past prophetic interpretations regarding the pre-advent judgment, the mark of the beast, the characteristics of the everlasting gospel are inadequate to fix or explain social issues as basic as the widespread lack of justice, equality, compassion, integrity, and forgiveness.

To be true to our prophetic calling, Adventists have to be forward-thinking and forward-moving. We have to imagine a movement in which all are gifted and valued. We have to reject the lie that not all Adventists are worthy to be considered orthodox. Our diversity of thought and expression is as important as our differences in gender, race, and nationality. Everyone deserves a place inside the tent that is the Adventist Church—whether young, old, rich, poor, gay, straight, male, female, or non-binary.

There’s no need to panic. We have to work together.

Stephen Chavez

5 November 2023