by Jack Hoehn | April 8, 2022 |
A small Adventist church in my hometown of colleges, universities, and health care institutions is closer to the railroad tracks and the state prison than to the manicured lawns, sidewalks, libraries, lecture halls and church of Walla Walla University just a couple of miles away. It has a small membership started once as a branch Sabbath School from one of the many larger Seventh-day Adventist churches (12 or more churches and companies) in this agricultural valley. Most of the towns in this valley are considered safe, but there are a few areas where you perhaps shouldn’t walk alone at night.
This little Adventist church may now become one of them.
My mailbox today included a reason you might not want to go there after dark. “Pre-register Now,” it said on a dark black mailing showing a snake swallowing its tail, and subtitled “The Story You Weren’t Supposed to Hear” and titled THE SERPENTINE PROPHECY.
The brochure gave a web link. Apparently, THE SERPENTINE PROPHECY is a tele-video presented by Shawn Boonstra, current successor of H. M. S. Richard’s famed Adventist radio program, The Voice of Prophecy.
H. M. S. Richards was the dignified dean of public Adventism. His mellifluous voice gently encouraging everyone in the world to “have faith in God” and to find the “place of quiet rest, near to the heart of God” brought thousands of us to that quiet resting place in Jesus. Yes, his King’s Heralds were “lifting up the trumpet and loud letting it ring” that Jesus was coming again.
But I never ever heard this studious and diplomatic man of God, or any of his successors, suggesting we cower in fear in the darkness before Satan, from “age-old tombs,” of “things that move beyond the shadows,” of “dark influences” and “unspoken forces.” All those are phrases used in the advertising flyer sent by mail to my home promoting this fearsome event on April 21-23.
Is this a Seventh-day Adventist response to the worldwide celebration of Jesus’ resurrection on the Easter weekend just before it? Or of the Jewish celebration of the Passover from the death angel the same week? Isn’t even the Muslim Ramadan fast/feast now going on better news than this kind of fear mongering?
Boonstra’s The Serpentine Prophecy offers us these topics.
Scheduled for April 21—Thursday night—the Opening Session (not a lecture, not a sermon—it’s a session) is “The Secret of Room 217.” The tag to this “secret” appears to have been written at Halloween, for it shudders,
It’s said to be one of the most haunted rooms in America. Some guests refuse to stay the entire night: after all, the nightmares within inspired one of the infamous horror films of all times…
Wow, is this going to be a session—or a séance?
Session 2, assuming you have survived The Secret Room, is Whispers of the Serpent. This is scheduled for a Friday night about sundown. Will you be able to safely get home in the dark after this session ends?
Session 3 promises “Hidden Knowledge”—which they at least scheduled on Sabbath afternoon at 3:00 P.M. while the sun is shining. Perhaps the “knowledge” refers to the introductory paragraph about “dark influences and unspoken forces that have been quietly driving humanity from the very dawn of civilization… and if there are, where are they trying to take us?” (Bolding and italics in the original.)
Session 4 follows just one hour later at 4:00 pm on Sabbath. Once we have fully tasted all the available fruit from the tree of hidden knowledge that evangelist Boonstra has offered us, can we hope to make it home safely before sunset? But I think I can assume that in this meeting we can tell the conspiracy-attracted audience, “Surprise! Jesus can save us from Satan!” “Surprise! The Adventist Church knows all about the great controversy!” “Surprise! Let us baptize you so you too can be saved from the dark influences and unspoken forces ‘trying to take us.'”
And everyone will live happily ever after.
Fear and Propaganda
I find the politics and propaganda of fear and conspiracy destructive to the health of mind, soul, government, and religion in America. Questions that start, “What if…” and then answer themselves by assuming the fears the question raised as realities are the basis of the incoherent ramblings of QAnon, and the satanic distortion of the solid and rational Adventist health message by fear into an anti-vaccination, death-promoting cult.
I have shared my concerns with the local churches cooperating with this Voice of Prophecy (VOP) program. One of the pastors has already replied, agreeing with me that “we scare people into the church and then we scare them out again” with this kind of messaging. Another local pastor told me, “We chose not to play any of the trailers in church for fear of frightening the children!” But, he says, in the past VOP programs have been “effective in bringing in new members.”
I wish that the Voice of Prophecy and local Adventist churches cooperating with this series would think again before April 21. Perhaps I should look for a good strong Bible proof text to warn them with?
2 Timothy 2:16, 17 NIV. “Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene.”
But we tend to use proof texts to support our own biases. So perhaps I can just ask them to remember the comforting words of H. M. S. Richards. Ask them to back away from evangelism by shivers and shakes. That our evangelists offer people a place far from Satan, far from snakes and their prophecies, far from Nostradamus, far from QAnon, far from nightmares, far from haunted rooms.
And that we move near, very near, back to Jesus—“near” in fact, “to the heart of God.”
Jack Hoehn is a retired physician living in Walla Walla, Washington. His recent book is ADVENTIST TOMORROW—Fresh Ideas While Waiting for Jesus. This book, available in electronic (Kindle) and paperback form from Amazon.com, is the most successful book Adventist Today has published to date.