by Carsten Thomsen | 17 October 2021 |
I just finished listening to Elder Ted Wilson’s Annual Council Sabbath sermon in its entirety. What an oratorical masterpiece! Speaking with great confidence and conviction, leaving nothing open to discussion, with all the pieces of Seventh-day Adventist doctrine, identity and purpose clearly enunciated, it took me back to 1960 when Fordyce Detamore crusaded for three weeks in the Battle Creek Tabernacle, and persuaded me to be baptized. Things were so simple, so clear, when I was 11 years old.
There is no doubt in my mind that a clear message like Wilson’s, spoken with great conviction, is reassuring to members who long for certainty. Some feel the need to entrust their systems of belief to the hands of the confident, inspired priests of the church. And realistically, it might well enrich their lives, assuming it does not lead them to extremism.
But I wasn’t seduced this time. Now, these many years after I was baptized by Elder Detamore, I received Elder Wilson’s speech as a masterpiece of manipulation and circular reasoning. Because it presents all Seventh-day Adventist truths as irrefutable, God-given facts, it actually diminishes faith in God, and replaces it with blind acceptance of a gripping but over-simplistic message—a message that trumps theology and science.
It also became very clear to me that this is not the kind of Seventh-day Adventist I now am or want to be. And when I look back over the many sermons I preached and Sabbath School discussions I led through the years as a layman, where I gently tried to share my search for a bigger, more gracious God and church, I must pronounce myself guilty of not being in compliance with either the beliefs or the attitudes enunciated at this year’s Annual Council.
What kind of Seventh-day Adventist do I want to be? In an attempt to turn my disappointment into something positive, I have written the following Ten Celebrations of Adventist Theology.
(Any relationship to Mark Finley’s Ten Theological Issues Facing the Church presented at the Annual Council is not coincidental.)
Ten Celebrations of Adventist Theology
- The Life-giving Bible: I believe that the Bible is the inspired story of man’s relationship to God and his view of the Divine through the ages. I believe it must be read through the eyes of Christ, who is the closest direct Divine revelation available. His perspective of an almighty and loving God must permeate every reading of the Scriptures.
- A Dynamic Adventist Identity: I believe that the Seventh-day Adventist church arose as a protest against the stagnation of mainstream churches. It was at that time a movement that mobilized its believers with new faith and fervor. Recovering from early stumbles in understanding Scripture, the church showed a vitality in its on-going evolution of faith. With a unique focus on the whole man, God’s will for salvation of all people, and a hope for a better life now and beyond, it inspired a dynamic world-wide movement.
- The Grand Prophecies: I believe that God gave prophecies for all time, painting grand pictures of the mystery and power of the Divine that find relevance and deep spiritual meaning for every generation and culture. The ultimate victory of love over evil, both in our hearts and cosmically, is the red thread binding all prophecies together.
- The Miracle of Creation: I believe in the incomprehensible miracle of creation. I stand humbled and in awe of what I don’t understand, but feel joy and responsibility of being co-creator with God and an entrusted caretaker of his creation. The beauty of the seven-day cycle, with the sabbath for rest and worship, is a special gift of deep importance for all mankind.
- The Jesus of Love: I believe that Jesus drew a line in the sand, and lifted our sights to the divine principles of love for God and for our fellow man. With our God-given conscience and intellect, we are trusted to apply these principles in all aspects of our life, freed from narrow rules that make us slaves of the law.
- Compassion for All: I believe all moral viewpoints must be derived from love. We may not always understand the complexities of sexuality, and in a turbulent world must navigate with love and care, listening to those we don’t understand. We must overcome the challenge of the innate revulsion and condemnation we may feel, and as in Christ’s example, remember that all humans are our siblings, created and loved by the same God.
- The Advent of Joy and Hope: I believe that in the advent of Jesus, He pointed to a second coming, where he would make all things new. For me, He came again when I was swept off my feet by the revolutionary power of His love. It gave me inner peace and joy because I know He carries my burdens, and relieves me from the yoke of being “good enough”. It gives me confidence that he has won the Great Controversy in my soul, and provides hope for a cosmic second coming in the future.
- The Freedom of the Sanctuary: I believe that the beautiful symbolism of the sanctuary points to the dramatic sacrifice of Christ, freeing us once and for all from the fear of sin and death, and giving all generations comfort in a just and loving judgment.
- The Prophet of Change: I believe Ellen White played a pivotal role as a guiding light in the revolutionary development of the church. In her own spiritual journey she evolved with the church toward a deeper understanding of God’s love. Her prophetic voice speaks today, encouraging us not to stagnate in our view of God, and to be flexible and creative as we move forward.
- The Beauty in Our Diversity: I believe that God speaks to us in multiple languages and cultural expressions that meet us where we are. He listens to us, accepts us, and guides us forward in love. A love that he expects us to reflect to all mankind as we celebrate our diversity in the tent of his love.
Comparing the above list to the messages at the Annual Council makes me wonder whether I still belong. The intellectually honest thing to do, I suppose, would be to resign my church membership. But I would prefer to cut my ties with the General Conference (if there were a way to do so), but keep my membership here in my local church, where openness and mutual support in our individual journeys of faith are valued.
Carsten Thomsen is a retired engineer active in the Nærum church in Denmark.