by Andrew Hanson
By Andrew Hanson, March 20, 2014
By Ted N. C. Wilson in the March 2014 issue of Adventist World, with commentary by Andrew Hanson.
In his essay, Ted lists his “four great concerns for the church today”:
1. A loss of Seventh-day Adventist identity among some of our pastors and church members.
2. The growing tide of worldliness in many of our churches.
3. The danger of disunity.
4. A spiritual complacency and apathy that leads to a lack of involvement in the mission of the church.
It seems to me that Ted’s worries echo the concerns of the Papacy when confronted by the scientific discoveries published by Galileo.
Galileo confused revealed truths with scientific discoveries by saying that in the Bible are found propositions which, when taken literally, are false; that Holy Writ out of regard for the incapacity of the people, expresses itself inexactly, even when treating of solemn dogmas; that in questions concerning natural things, philosophical [i.e., scientific] should avail more than sacred." Hence, we see that it was Galileo's perceived attack on theology (which is the unique domain of the Magisterium and not of scientists) that elicited the alarmed response from the Church.*
Let’s see if I can make the case using Ted’s own words.
A LOSS OF IDENTITY
Now, here is precisely my concern: too many of our pastors and members have failed to recognize, or have forgotten, the divine prophetic calling God has given us as a church. There’s a growing tendency to minimize our differences with other denominations. Much of this comes from the neutralization of the Bible as God’s Word. It is so important that we base our beliefs on the Word of God, using the historical-biblical method of studying the Scriptures, and approaching prophetic understanding from the historicist perspective. God’s Word must be foundational to our belief, faith, and practical living. The Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth if we will study, pray, and listen to God’s voice.
The “historical-biblical method,” sola scriptura, while useful in supporting the notion of a six day creation and Sabbath rest must be explained away when considering the first of the Ten Commandments: “Thou shalt have no other Gods before me.”
When pastors and members challenge the historical-critical method, Ted argues that church members have rejected the leading of the Holy Spirit or forgotten God’s “divine prophetic calling.”
It seems to me that Wilson’s fundamental concern stems from his belief that questions concerning natural things, philosophical [i.e., scientific] should avail more than sacred. He argues that these questions undermine the Church’s identity as the home of God’s remnant people.
Loss of identity can create a GROWING TIDE OF WORLDLINESS.
Wilson argues that change minimizes our differences with other Christian denominations.
Standards that were once cherished by Seventh-day Adventists in the areas of diet and dress, recreation and amusement, and Sabbathkeeping are fast becoming things of the past… This is no time to flirt with the devil’s dress, diet, amusement, and worldly influences. Christ living in our lives and dwelling in our hearts makes a dramatic difference in how we live.
Standards required of Sabbath keepers have undoubtedly “changed” during my lifetime. Wedding and engagement rings, earrings, Sabbath meals “out,” shorter dresses, swimming, roller-skating, movie attendance, and praise music are almost universally tolerated today. Ingathering has lost steam. Attitudes toward television, “worldly” universities, saxophone solos in church, beauty salons, coffee drinking, appropriate church dress, and divorce have changed. Discussions regarding the legitimacy of homosexual partnerships and women’s ordination also indicate changing attitudes.
Loss of identity can create THE DANGER OF DISUNITY.
This is a time for all to unite in Christ under the banner of His truth, to preach His message to the world. God has given to the Seventh-day Adventist Church a divinely inspired church organization, and mutual agreements called church policies, which under the guidance of the Holy Spirit are part of what helps to hold us together as a worldwide family. To discard or ignore these mutual agreements violates a sacred trust and creates unnecessary discord.
Loss of identity can lead to SPIRITUAL COMPLACENCY AND APATHY.
Increased spiritual apathy and complacency is prevalent in the lives of many. We need to examine our lives to make sure that God is working in us in a vital way. Recent surveys indicate that the overwhelming majority of church members believe the doctrinal essentials of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, but there is a growing complacency about sharing their faith. They’re part of the culture of the uninvolved, rather than the culture of the involved. There is little passion for sharing their faith in Jesus Christ. There’s no urgency in their souls.
It’s no wonder that Ted’s concerns mirror the official reaction of Pope Paul III. Ted, like Pope Paul III, makes the assumption that members and pastors advocating a scientific literary analysis of scripture, compromise Church authority, thereby challenging its exclusive theology and “divinely inspired” church hierarchy. This advocacy is identified as a demonic distraction that results in a membership that lacks unity, passion, and urgency when it comes to sharing their faith.
Ted, the good news is that the Catholic Church survived Galileo, and the Adventist Church can survive biblical literary analysis.** You say so yourself.
Of course, we do not get to heaven by what we eat, or by how we show ourselves to be religious. We have salvation through the power and the blood of Jesus Christ…God is in control and leading His people. Does the church have challenges? Yes, but I see evidence of the Holy Spirit moving powerfully among His people.
* Patrick Madrid, The Papacy and Gallileo https://catholiceducation.org/articles/science/sc0033.html
** A literary analysis is not merely a summary of a literary work. Instead, it is an argument about the work that expresses a writer's personal perspective, interpretation, judgment, or critical evaluation of the work.