by Preston Foster
Perhaps a certain type of person is drawn to Adventism. It is, admittedly, not an easy religion for post modern folks to adapt to or practice. Adventist’s folkways are, generally, inconvenient — and seem a tad weird to those steeped in the secular world. Those who convert to Adventism usually experience a radical change in lifestyle. Perhaps those who would consider such a change might be predisposed to do so.
Our health teachings and practices of dress put us out of the mainstream. Most of us who were raised in the faith, were taught to be proud of being a “peculiar people.” Some of us made sure that the peculiarity was noticeable — a badge of honor, of sorts.
Maybe this is what God wants. He said the He preferred that we be either hot or cold, rather than lukewarm. From all evidence, we are doing a bang-up job at that.
We have vegetarians, but, for some, that is not enough. Vegans are the few and the proud. We have believers in justification by faith, but they are questioned by those who believe in justification by faith, only. Some believe that works count, but others believe that you will only be saved if your works reach a state of perfection. Some wear jewelry freely (usually in excess), others not a spec.
I say this as an observation, not a criticism. After all, I am an Adventist, and happily so.
I will confess that when I was much younger and foolishly thought that visiting nightclubs (in my college town) was cool, you could always tell who was Adventist: they danced too hard — and, usually won the dance contests. It gave a whole new meaning to “do it with thy might.”
Many times, extremism is simply conviction or complete faith, appearing extreme to those of little or no faith. One person’s conviction is another’s extremism. Conviction about the spiritual realm (including atheism or agnosticism) shapes one’s world view. Conviction energizes our efforts for evangelism for Christ, or, ironically, against it.
A seemingly extreme position, based on a conviction, is an anathema to most intellectuals. Decisions based on intangible evidence causes those trained to trust traditional philosophy, solely, to run the other way. Some former or so-called liberal Adventists have run to the brink. Many are now appalled by their association with such “peculiar people,” yet they cannot completely let go of it. To objective observers, this, too, seems a bit extreme.
This dynamic would be merely interesting, if it did not have strong implications for divisiveness within the church. Issues are framed and debated on the extremes. Some lament that, in their view, an extreme traditionalist has been elected GC president. However, his election can be arguably be explained as a reaction to an extremely liberal agenda (see “the election of Barack Obama” for a reverse example of this dynamic). Again, this may be what God wants. Or not. Extremists tend to get more “airtime” than they’ve earned. Their positions tend to either dominate or suck all the energy out of a room.
Adventists, generally, seem not suited to consider moderation as philosophy for living. Those who do are seen as weak or uncommitted. Unlike national politics, where moderates (i.e. Nixon’s “Silent Majority”) are large in number and influential in elections, moderates in Adventism are a minority and are, for the most part, discounted and unrecruited. The lack of a critical mass of moderates likely impedes progress on divisive issues.
However, our penchant for intensity is mostly a good thing. The Adventists that I know are, for the most part, extremely pleasant people (those who are most vocal at church board meetings — not so much). Love and conviction are a powerful and persuasive combination. That combination often generates interest from people who, without the benefit of a personal relationship with an Adventist, might never consider investigating the faith. Our friends of other faiths who, understand (or admire) our idiosyncrasies, explain us to their unexposed friends like all majorities do: “They are nice when you get to know them. Some of my best friends are Adventists!”
Moderation is no fun to Adventists. Each of us push our favorite issue near its extreme. It is the common trait amongst us. Those of us who claim to be free of the burdens of works, work hard at being free of works. Where else (beside Starbucks, Anyone) can a debate about coffee generate as much passion? Some of us focus on the good news and freedom in Christ. Others focus on health, or music, or Ellen White (pro and con), or end-time prophecies. Whatever the issue, we push it to the brink.
What positive use might be made of this?