by Carmen and Loren Seibold  |  25 November 2019  |


Dr. Tihomir Lazic. Newbold College
“Truth as Koinonia: The Essential Role of the Church in God’s Self-Revelation”

This paper suggests the Trinity as a way of modeling the discovery of truth in the church. 

While Adventists are proud of themselves for having such a dynamic and stimulating perception of the nature of truth, they are generally blind to the fact that, as children of an Enlightenment era, they have uncritically adopted excessively propositional, individualistic and logocentric interpretations of this concept, which have an intrinsic tendency to impoverish and marginalize ecclesiological discourse. By definition, such a reductionist concept excludes the church from being a significant aspect of divine revelation; the remnant becomes just the messenger. The truth is expressed only in the form of the message proclaimed—predominantly in linguistic discourse, especially in a set of distinctive doctrines—and the carrier of the message is rendered secondary, if not insignificant. Instead of being an integral part of divine revelation, the remnant church in Adventist ecclesiology seems to stand outside the scope of what is regarded as the truth.

With regard to the Trinity, the paper discusses imitatio Trinitatis—“that the ecclesial relations somehow reflect the intra-Trinitarian relations,” that the “inner-Trinitarian koinonia, according to communio ecclesiologists, should be used as a structural blueprint for the human koinonia,” and also participatio Trinitatis, examining “the relationship between Trinity and church in terms of the believer’s participation in the divine life as unveiled in history, with an emphasis on dynamic personal interaction, indwelling, and sharing, both among the believers and with God.”

The most common deficiency includes a severe condition known also as “Holy Spirit Deficit Disorder.” If this assessment is accurate—and there are numerous scholars from different religious traditions that would concur with it—one of the first tasks of providing a truly Trinitarian vision of a church’s communal esse involves a systematic effort to overcome this pneumatological deficit. … it is only by giving a proper place to pneumatology within the broader stream of the Trinitarian participatory ecclesiological vision that one can gain a fresh angle from which to reason about different aspects of our communal participation in the truth of God’s revelation.


Gilbert M Valentine, La Sierra University:
“Exiting the General Conference Presidency: Heterodoxy, Orthodoxy and Issues of Unity” 

Abstract:

The Bible Conference of 1919 marked a turning point in the General Conference presidency of Arthur G. Daniells. In that year he was perceived by an increasingly hostile faction in the church to have crossed a threshold of acceptability when at the Bible Conference he had permitted the expression of progressive theological positions, clearly favoring some himself and supposedly undermining the authority of Ellen White. To the conservative faction he was no longer a safe leader. Reaction to the conference had a lasting impact on the church, resulting in a highly contentious General Conference session in 1922, involving heated dispute over the presidential election. Daniells exited the office of the presidency under a cloud of suspicion about his lack of orthodoxy. 

By contrast, thirty-four years earlier in 1888, George Butler exited the presidency in very undignified circumstances because of an excess of orthodoxy. Butler’s defense of a rigid orthodoxy threatened the unity of the church. 

This paper explores the particular circumstances surrounding the exit from office of the two presidents and then broadens its scope to briefly survey the circumstances involved in the exit of the other occupants of the office of General Conference president since it was established in 1863. Tenure varied, with an average tenure of 10.9 years. Most exits were occasioned either by the occupant’s ill-health or the approach of retirement age. Five of the sixteen exiting occupants desired to continue in office but were not returned. Reasons in these circumstances involved either a specific strategic need of the church, discipline or a failure to meet expectations in leading appropriately. 


Michelet William, Andrews University
“The Social Gospel Movement and Adventism in the Late Nineteenth to Early Twentieth Century in the United States”

This paper is a historical overview of the Social Gospel movement, “its basic theological presuppositions with regards to soteriology, and eschatology” and “an Adventist’s critique and contrast to the Social Gospel, unveiling the cause of the reticence of the Adventist church to embrace the movement.”

The Social Gospel is rooted in American Protestant liberalism, which was largely influenced by the ideologies of the Progressive Era during the late nineteenth century. The Seventh-day Adventist Church, while distancing itself from the Social Gospel, had fought for social issues of its time by implementing a form of social welfare programs as part of the gospel rather than replacing it. Adventists’ primary focus had been on the salvation of the soul of individuals, drawing on the belief that total social redemption will be a reality only at the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.


Katrina Blue, Pacific Union College
“Closing the Door: The Fundamental Narrative and Its Impact on Adventism”

Blue reviews the development of Protestant Fundamentalism as contributing context to the 1919 Bible Conference and a subsequent Teachers’ Council. Issues today holding Seventh-day Adventism at an impasse may be rooted in the continuing influence of the Fundamentalist narrative, perpetuating anti-intellectualism, inhibiting scholarly inquiry, and limiting the sharing of the gospel.

In the late 19th century and early 20th, new challenges from Europe rocked the dominant narrative of Protestant evangelicalism. The Fundamentalist movement was a response to the perceived threats against American religion and society: modernism, Darwinian evolution, and biblical liberalism. A cross-denominational flurry of statements, debates, sermons, religious education reforms, definitions of fundamental doctrines, and conferences attempted to counter the spiritual and cultural crisis. Some, such as the Dispensationalists, fueled prophetic fervor, a shared focus for Adventists. That interest was excited further by the lived experience of WWI and questions about its significance for end-times.

“Following Ellen White’s death in 1915, a number of unresolved issues came to the fore for thinking Adventists that required attention. Influenced in part by the prophecy conferences, a Seventh-day Adventist Bible Conference was organized and held from July 1-19, and a Teachers’ Council from August 20 to September 1, 1919. Approximately 65 persons attended these meetings representing fourteen colleges. Transcription of the lectures and discussions were not ‘discovered’ until 1974 in the new office of Adventist Archives. The minutes provide a fascinating insight into the issues that concerned participants, revealing at times heated discussions and debate. It was issues not on the agenda, however, that subsequently gained the most attention.”

A divided discussion over the inspiration of the Bible and Ellen White—and whether it should be understood as pertaining to the writers’ thoughts or their words—filled two days. The chair, Warren E. Howell, observed that most church members believed both the Bible and White’s writings were verbally inspired. Consequently, if educators taught thought-inspiration they would be regarded as liberal and at variance with the church. In concern, Jacob N. Anderson posed the following dilemma:

“Can we hold something in the back of our head that we are absolutely sure about, and that most of the brethren stand with us on?—can we hold those things back and be true to ourselves? And furthermore, are we safe in doing it? Is it well to let our people in general go on holding to the verbal inspiration of the Testimonies? When we do that, aren’t we preparing for a crisis that will be very serious some day? It seems to me that the best thing for us to do is to cautiously and very carefully educate our people to see just where we really should stand to be consistent Protestants, to be consistent with the Testimonies themselves, and to be consistent with what we know we must do, as intelligent men, as we have decided in these meetings.”

Anderson’s words were not heeded, resulting in Seventh-day Adventists in effect assuming the verbal inspiration view of the Bible and Ellen White’s writings. Some participants wanted to share the minutes with the church at large, but the records of these frank discussions disappeared for over 50 years. Some of the theological polarization nevertheless escaped, including the creation of the terms Adventist “liberals” as opposed to “conservatives.”

Citing critiques of the problematic heritage of Fundamentalism by Mark Noll (The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind) and James Barr (Fundamentalism), Blue asks:

“What about Seventh-day Adventism? What impact has Fundamentalism had on this denomination? Further exploration is needed on the gradual exclusion of women from ministry and church administrative positions in the 1920s and beyond. Literalism in biblical hermeneutics as opposed to a contextual reading of Pauline letters continues to be used as an argument to deny women ordination. Anti-intellectualism affects Adventism as seen in a general disdain for reading books other than the Bible and writings of Ellen White. Consequently, there is an inability to communicate and understand contemporary concerns and perspectives impacting the world and Seventh-day Adventists. More recently, attempts to control and punish church leaders are treated as a solution to theological difference. The hardening of conservative perspectives and lines of thought aims to shut down dialogue rather than promote understanding and the ability to move forward. These contemporary expressions of anti-intellectualism and its chilling effect on Christian thinking about the world, to use Noll’s expression, place Adventists in danger of new forms of legalism, false teaching, and a paralysis for sharing of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the contemporary world. Is Adventism currently undergoing a profound identity change? Are these attitudes by-products of a Fundamentalist narrative gripping Adventism?”


Loren Seibold and Carmen Seibold are part of the editorial team of Adventist Today’s magazine, website, and social media outreach.

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