by Kent Rufo
Growing up in northwest Ohio has given me a unique perspective concerning religion. Most of the northwest Ohio area-churches are considered “conservative”, while the largest church in the city is oftentimes seen by the other area-churches as the “liberal” church. This dynamic has created tension (almost a “hatred”) between the churches of NW Ohio. The majority of the small churches see the large church as “compromising” while that same church accuses the small churches as “legalistic”. Throughout my childhood I had attended both styles of churches and have heard the accusations thrown around by both sides. To reiterate the over-quoted Rodney King: “can’t we all just get along?”
I normally think it is dangerous to build a “theology” on one word but I believe that there is one word that has been misunderstood and, thus, created big problems within Judaism, Islam and Christianity. (We also get great insights by looking at original words like the Hebrew word Elohim: a plural word translated “God” and the variety of words for “love”, both in Hebrew and Greek) The English word is “one”, which is translated from the Hebrew word echad. This word has especially created controversy in the Biblical text of Deuteronomy 6:4 which states, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one”. The problem is that the English (western) idea of the word is numerical, hence, “one” is something singular in itself. This seems to create problems between certain religions on defining a “monotheist”. Certain Jews and Muslims consider Christians “polytheists”, stating that we believe that there are three gods. But the Hebrew idea is that NOTHING is really singular in itself. Everything is a unit of smaller components. Our body is a unit of organs, which are a unit of cells, which are a unit of atoms, which are a unit of subatomic particles, etc. Hebrew thought has no problem with this concept of plurality within the “singular”. For example both Elohim (God) and panim (face) are singular in English translation, yet are technically plural in the original.
The first time that echad is used is in the fifth verse of Genesis 1 which states in the King James “And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day” (italics supplied). There are two things to note in this verse. First of all, the word “first” is used instead of “one”. This is a wrong translation. There is a Hebrew word for “first” (rishon). In every other day of Creation the ordinal form (second, third, fourth, etc.) is used. But here the ordinal form (first) is not used, rather the numerical form (one). Could it be that the author is not numbering the day, rather he is defining a “day” stating that it is both an evening and a morning? Together they are “one day”. (Even the word echad is not used, this could be the same concept understood in Genesis 2:7 where a living being, singular, is comprised of both dirt and breath.) Secondly, this verse, along with others, seem to point out that the word echad is often used with two “opposites”, or at least “different”, being put together to make something whole. (Compare Genesis 2:24—“one flesh”; Genesis 41:26—“one dream”; Genesis 11:1—“one words”, which is correct from the original) Here the opposites are “evening” and “morning”. One is lit by the sun and the other by the moon (yet not created until the 4th day). One is to start work and the other to put work to bed. People often love one and despise the other. (i.e. “morning person”) Some animals begin their day in the morning, while others like bats and owls begin theirs in the evening. Actually, both morning’s and evening’s purposes are to “end” the opposite: morning ends the night, while evening ends the daytime. They are different, yet are both needed to comprise one day. They seem to serve “opposite” purposes, yet they work together to perform the same function: to produce one day.
So back to our dilemma of “opposite” churches that are under the one Seventh-day Adventist umbrella. We’ve got the “traditional” churches and the “progressive” churches (note the intentional non-use of “conservative” and “liberal” due to the negative connotations that follow those words). They seem to serve two opposite functions. One adheres to a stricter adherence to laws and “traditions” (which are not inherently bad), while the other seems to shirk tradition to reach another type of person. Contrary to the belief of each other’s group, both groups want to be the most Biblical they can be and both want to reach people with the gospel for Jesus Christ. Most of the people in both groups sincerely want to serve the Lord. (Obviously I am speaking only from my personal experience) Here is the sad thing, there is so much energy wasted in “trashing” the other group, which actually has a negative effect by driving a larger wedge between these children of God. But is there a possibility that God is using both groups to serve different functions to achieve His greater purpose: bringing as many people the gospel as possible? Didn’t He do this in the Scriptures? To many of the Jewish converts to Christianity, Paul was seen as a “liberal”. Peter was considered the “conservative” apostle, but needed to be rebuked by Paul in the book of Galatians because he was siding with the Jewish converts over the Gentile converts. Was it possible that the Lord was using both Peter, a Jew through and through, along with Paul, one who was willing to become all things for all people?
If this is the purpose of God to use these different groups to serve His ultimate purpose then could we actually be going against the will of the Lord when we attack each other? Instead, should we follow the counsel of Gamaliel in Acts 5 “So in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God." (verses 38, 39) So maybe our conclusion should be working together in serving different purposes to reach as many people for the gospel’s sake.