by Andy Hanson
Andy Nash, writing in the Adventist Review of March 21, 2013, opines, “While relationships will always factor into any church member’s experience, a new study suggests a shifting landscape in which more and more people are leaving the Adventist Church primarily because they’ve changed their beliefs.”
BEYOND BELIEF chronicles the experiences of respondents like this one:
“The tipping point came when I realized we couldn’t expect our sons to tell us the truth if we were modeling a lack of integrity by being active members of a church they knew we no longer believed…We did not leave because we were in any way hurt, angry, bitter, or disgruntled. We left with great grief and great loss, and we left because the Lord Jesus revealed Himself to us so compellingly that we know we could not dishonor Him by remaining in a system that does not know who He really is or what He really did.”
Ted Wilson’s inaugural speech created this “tipping point” for many church members. What follows is an excerpt from that speech, my comments, and a letter I received from a former Adventist
from Ted NC Wilson’s Milestone Address to General Conference Delegates July 3, 2010, entitled “Go Forward.”
Go forward, not backward…Do not succumb to the mistaken idea, gaining support even in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, of accepting worship or evangelistic outreach methods merely because they are new and “trendy.” We must be vigilant to test all things according to the supreme authority of God’s Word and the counsel with which we have been blessed in the writings of Ellen G. White. Don’t reach out to movements or megachurch centers outside the Seventh-day Adventist Church which promise you spiritual success based on faulty theology. Stay away from non-biblical spiritual disciplines or methods of spiritual formation that are rooted in mysticism such as contemplative prayer, centering prayer, and the emerging church movement in which they are promoted. Look WITHIN the Seventh-day Adventist Church to humble pastors, evangelists, Biblical scholars, leaders, and departmental directors who can provide evangelistic methods and programs that are based on solid Biblical principles and “The Great Controversy Theme.”
Go forward, not backward! Use Christ-centered, Bible-based worship and music practices in church services. While we understand that worship services and cultures vary throughout the world, don’t go backwards into confusing pagan settings where music and worship become so focused on emotion and experience that you lose the central focus on the Word of God. All worship, however simple or complex should do one thing and one thing only: lift up Christ and put down self. Worship methods that lift up performance and self should be replaced with a simple and sweet reflection of a Christ-centered, Biblical approach. To define it too closely is impossible but when you read in Scripture of the holiness of God’s presence the Holy Spirit will help you to know what is right and what is wrong.
Go forward, not backward! Stand for truth though the heavens fall. Don’t succumb to fanatical or loose theology that wrests God’s Word from the pillars of Biblical truth and the landmark beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Don’t be swayed with every little whim of “new” theology or complicated time chart purporting to carefully explain unusual or obscure concepts that have little to do with our overall theology and mission. The historic Biblical beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church will not be moved. The Biblical foundation will stand secure to the end of time. Listen to what we are told in Selected Messages, Book 1, pages 207-208, “What influence is it that would lead men at this stage of our history to work in an underhand, powerful way to tear down the foundation of our faith—the foundation that was laid at the beginning of our work by prayerful study of the Word and by revelation?…We are God’s commandment-keeping people…every phase of heresy has been brought to bear upon us, to becloud our minds regarding the teaching of the Word—especially concerning the ministration of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary, and the message of Heaven for these last days, as given by the angels of the fourteenth chapter of Revelation. Messages of every order and kind have been urged upon Seventh-day Adventists, to take the place of the truth which, point by point, has been sought out by prayerful study, and testified to by the miracle-working power of the Lord. But the waymarks which have made us what we are, are to be preserved, and they will be preserved, as God has signified through His Word and the testimony of His Spirit. He calls upon us to hold firmly, with the grip of faith, to the fundamental principles that are based upon unquestionable authority.”
Go forward, not backward! Stand firm for God’s Word as it is literally read and understood. Of course, we must always humbly recognize that we are finite, fallen creatures observing the works of an infinite omnipotent God. There are things in both of God’s two great books of nature and Scripture that we do not fully comprehend. In fact, we are told that the sacrifice of Jesus will be “the science and the song of the redeemed throughout the ceaseless ages of eternity.” But that which the Lord in His mercy has given to us in clear language to be taken as fact simply because He said so must not be shrouded in skepticism. Don’t go backwards to misinterpret the first eleven chapters of Genesis or other areas of Scripture as allegorical or merely symbolic. As just this week we have once again affirmed in an overwhelming manner, the Seventh-day Adventist Church both teaches and believes in the biblical record of creation which took place recently; in six literal, consecutive, contiguous 24 hour days. The Seventh-day Adventist Church will never change its stand or belief in that foundational doctrine. If God did not create this world in six literal days and then blessed the Sabbath day, why are we worshipping Him today on this seventh-day Sabbath as SEVENTH-DAY Adventists? To misunderstand or to misinterpret this doctrine is to deny God’s Word and to deny the very purpose of the Seventh-day Adventist movement as the remnant church of God called to proclaim the three angels’ messages with Holy Spirit power. Don’t go backwards to atheistic or theistic evolution, go forward to the prophetic understanding that loyalty to God, the Creator and Redeemer, will be seen in the observance of the seventh-day Sabbath as the distinguishing characteristic of God’s people in the very end of time. Seventh-day Adventist Church members, hold your leaders, pastors, local churches, educators, institutions, and administrative organizations accountable to the highest standards of belief based on a literal understanding of Scripture. Utilize wonderful resources such as the Biblical Research Institute’s new book on hermeneutics that helps us know the correct way to interpret the Scriptures.
Again we read in Selected Messages, Book 1, on p. 170, “We must be careful lest we misinterpret the Scriptures. The plain teachings of the Word of God are not to be so spiritualized that the reality is lost sight of. Do not overstrain the meaning of sentences in the Bible in an effort to bring forth something odd in order to please the fancy. Take the Scriptures as they read.”
MY COMMENTS relate specifically to my bolded sections of this speech
The idea that Adventists are advised to “look WITHIN” the church for “solid Biblical principles” is a call for theological conformity and unquestioning loyalty.
Ted has this thing about music. Just ask the musicians who play guitars and perform with recorded backup. Here he insinuates that anything but piano and organ music and hymns that are “simple and sweet” are not Christ-centered or reflect a “biblical approach” to worship.
The notion that “historical Biblical beliefs…will not be moved” is a statement that would be anathema to the founders of Adventism. They proudly proclaimed their commitment to “Present Truth.”
Belief in the literal six contiguous, twenty-four hour creation account is ludicrous on its face. Jewish scholars and linguists consider it a poetic statement of origins, Christian scholars point to its obvious prescientific orientation regarding the universe, historians point out that great civilizations existed prior to Usher’s establishment of the time of creation, and scientists of all stripes, can discover no illuminating scientific relevance in the biblical creation accounts.
The notion that the “seventh-day-Sabbath” is a distinguishing characteristic of “God’s people” has no biblical basis (Ted seems unacquainted with Mathew 25: 31-46.) as is his claim that the present is “the very end of time”.
The notion that the laity should hold those people and institutions affiliated with Adventism to “the highest standards of belief based on a literal understanding of Scripture” is to officially license pharisaical witch-hunting.
The use of this quote from Ellen White not to “misinterpret the Scriptures” implies that Adventists must accept the church’s authoritarian decree of infallibility.
A LETTER REQUESTING REMOVAL OF MEMBERSHIP
The following is a copy of a letter I received from a former church member.
Dear Church Clerk,
I wish to quietly withdraw my name from the official Seventh-day Adventist Church member list. Over the years I have in prayerful consideration and grief, struggled over my personal beliefs becoming more and more incompatible with the official beliefs of the SDA church. Ted N.C. Wilson’s General Conference speech gave me the clarity that I needed to end that struggle. My continued SDA membership would be a misrepresentation of a member of the Adventist Church would be disrespectful and wrong. I must therefore with deep regret, in good and clear conscience, disassociate myself from the Seventh-day Adventist church.
I am unable to accept the Biblical literalist’s view that the earth is flat and that slavery is not an objectionable practice. I am not being facetious here. According to Wilson, church members must believe in the absolute literal interpretation of the Bible. His edict that “we accept Scripture as it reads” cannot allow an individual who is in disagreement with the official creed to be a member “in good standing”. Since I have no desire to be officially “purged,” I choose to make a dignified goodbye as a member who believes there is still truth to be learned.
Ted’s speech would have been applauded by my great grandparents who died in the 1930’s and generally supported by my grandparents who died in the 1960’s. My grandfather was a SDA minister who graduated from Union College in 1907. He was progressive thinker in his time, which encouraged my parents to be progressive Adventists. Their influence led to my own fearless seeking for truth.
God did not die when Sister White died.
Although deeply committed to a relationship with God, respectful of the Christian traditions I was raised with I, in good conscience, can no longer be tagged as a Seventh-day Adventist Christian. Their beliefs and my beliefs are no longer compatible. I will always be an SDA in my heart, but there is no welcome place under the Adventist umbrella for a member who believes God continually reveals new truth as the world and people change.