A lovely Sabbath with the Unity Conference. I’ve got to say this was one of the most encouraging gathering of Seventh-day Adventists I’ve ever been part of. Three major presentations today, all of them excellent.

Though I must admit I’m a bit worn out! Long days, lots of socializing (heavy work for an introvert, even when I’m enjoying it!), jet lag, and lots and lots of brain work: listening, absorbing, and writing. 

I encourage you to read the papers! Both Dr. Hemmings and Dr. Roennfeldt break some significant new ground in interpreting important texts. 


Liberty in Messiah: The Steep and Narrow Path to Unity
Olive Hemmings (PhD)
Professor of Religion, Washington Adventist University

Download Dr. Hemming’s paper here

Main point:

“The New Testament teaching on unity is a call to enter the new covenant experience of liberty that frees the community from the need for conformity to rituals and regulations that have no spiritual value in and of themselves, but serve to keep it enslaved.”

Quotes:

  • “Paul’s arguments suggest that a ruling of the church may not produce spiritual fruit because of the factious nature of the issue. When that ruling is factious, i.e., when it violates the conscience of some, the Church must appeal to a higher conscience, which allows everyone to practice the faith according to the dictates of their conscience (‘Let all be fully convinced in their own minds’ [Romans 14:5b]). In doing this, it fulfills the law – ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ (Romans 13:8).”
  • “In light of this, the case of the current issue over women’s ordination is clearly a question of conscience, and that on two levels. First, if one approaches the scripture from a truly literalistic standpoint, then it seems that the early church in different regions acted according to conscience regarding the function of women. For example, women in Corinth and Rome functioned as prophets, teachers, and apostles (1 Corinthians 11; Romans 16), while ‘brethren’ in Ephesus wanted them to shut up and go home to their rightful roles as child-bearers (1Timothy 2). This is one major reason why after years of Bible study by the SDA church, there is yet no conclusive consensus to prohibit the ordination of women. Some side with the ‘brethren’ in Ephesus, and some with the sisters and brothers in Rome based on their cultural inclinations.”
  • “If all the lengthy studies commissioned by the church conclude that the Bible does not prohibit the ordination of women, the current issue as it stands needs not divide the church. If the early church judged the ritual act of circumcision—a clear scriptural mandate—to have no sanctifying value in and of itself, then even more so the question of women’s ordination that has no clear scriptural mandate. The compulsion to conform to the conscience of one faction in the church indicates that the community as a whole has yet to achieve freedom of conscience toward spiritual maturity. In the context of Galatians, this inability to accept differences in this matter of conscience, leaves us in slavery, bound to flesh and unable to fully access the freedom that comes through Messiah. There can be no unity if the conscience of one group is allowed to coerce that of another.”

Surprise:

“In its primary context Daniel 8:14 addresses the Syrian enforcement of Greek culture upon the Jews, and the desecration of the temple by Antiochus Epiphanes when he offered up a pig to the god Zeus in the temple precinct leading to the Maccabean Revolt. The future passive of the verb form of tzedakah (justice) appears in Daniel 8:14. (Remember, earlier I explained that tzedakah is the Hebrew prophetic plea against oppressive systems – corruption, greed and the exploitation of the vulnerable.) The Hebrew text of Daniel 8:14 actually says, ‘…unto 2,300 days then shall the sanctuary be given justice’ as in ‘given its rights.’ Please don’t pass this by. This central text to our theology calls not merely for some kind of cleansing, but for justice! … Daniel 8:14 primarily applies to God’s Covenant of justice – liberty – freedom of religious conscience.”


Religious Freedom: Some Historical Perspectives and Present Applications
Reinder Bruinsma (PhD)
Pastor and Church Administrator (Retired)

Download Dr. Bruinsma’s paper here

Main point: 

Dr. Bruinsma offers a good history of freedom, including religious freedom, free will, and academic freedom. He concludes with some excellent observations about the state of freedom in our church, and how much we are able to handle.

Quotes:

  • “Unfortunately, among Adventists, the conviction that liberty of conscience and of religion should be recognized as an essential right of every person is not always matched by a genuine interest in what others actually believe. Often Adventists continue to cherish stereotypical views of what other faith communities stand for, or to hold on to facts that are no longer accurate. The traditional Adventist understanding of the Roman Catholic Church and of the Protestant churches as apostate communities, has all too frequently led to disrespectful statements and unbecoming conduct towards those who believe differently from what we believe in. It would, in my view, show a mature Christian attitude if we would not just grant others the right to worship and believe as their conscience dictates, but also show respect and a greater willingness to understand what they stand for, and to give praise where praise is due.”
  • “Where Luther’s views on ‘freedom of the law’ tended to undervalue the role of God’s law in the life of the Christian, Seventh-day Adventists have often erred in the other direction and have not sufficiently understood and experienced the true Christian freedom that is based on an adequate understanding of justification by faith.… This in my view even a more essential point today than in much of our Adventist past, considering the increasing popularity of the so-called ‘Last Generation Theology,’ with its dangerous emphasis on perfectionism—and its often undue stress on the human role in the salvation process.”
  • “It becomes meaningless to claim being an Adventist Christian, when denying the basics of the Adventist teachings. There must be certain parameters, within which one must stay. There may not be enough dialogue in many places in the church about what these ‘basics’ consist of. Yet, there seems to be a reasonably broad consensus that, for instance, the Sabbath doctrine is more ‘basic’ than the distinction between ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ food, or that Christ’s second coming is a more vital belief than the identity of the ‘beast from the earth’. In actual practice there has always been, and still is, both a considerable degree of consensus and a considerable amount of theological diversity in the Adventist Church. Most Adventist church members consider some degree of diversity to be acceptable. In fact, it might (justifiably, I think) be argued that a fair degree of diversity is not only inevitable but even desirable in an organization that is alive.”

Best takeaway:

“It is fair, I think, to ask the question: Should a denomination that has been and is so much in the forefront with regard to the promotion of freedom of conscience and religion not be willing to extend a fair amount of that freedom to its own members and its theology professors?… It is gratifying to see that the Adventist Church has made freedom of conscience and of religion a point of major emphasis. But the time may have come for the Adventist Church to critically look at itself and determine whether or not this freedom of religion and conscience is perhaps being jeopardized by an over-emphasis on uniformity with the unintended result that that true underlying unity is at serious risk.”


Justice and Equality: Is God Interested?
Ray Roennfeldt (PhD)
Professor (Systematics), President, Avondale College

Download Dr. Roennfeldt’s paper here

Main point:

This paper examines God’s attitude to justice and equality, starting with Genesis’ ideal for human relationships, divine attitude towards justice and equality in Scripture more generally, and “a possible path ahead as the global, multicultural church grapples with the issue of justice and equality through the hermeneutical system portrayed as the Wesleyan Quadrilateral and through the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 as a case study in church politics.”

Quotes:

  • “Perhaps an answer to such diversity is to be found in both the nature of Scripture and the nature of God. Much (maybe all) of Scripture is what might be described as “occasional.” Certainly, the Pauline epistles are written to particular church communities or to Paul’s colleagues to deal with particular situations and issues. Sometimes it is impossible to determine exactly what motivated him to write as he did. For instance, we do not know exactly what lies behind Paul’s instructions to Timothy regarding women in the church in Ephesus. Were the women abusing their Christian freedom? Were they speaking out of ignorance and lack of education? Were they “lording it over” the men in the church? We cannot be sure, however it is evident that Paul is wanting to make a statement to correct whatever the abuse was, and he uses arguments that may seem strange to us. Are we permitted to argue with Paul in terms of his reasoning while accepting his writings as inspired? Or, to phrase the question even more starkly: Is Paul’s logic God’s logic?”
  • “The Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 provides a case study in how we in the 21st century might wrestle through an issue that clearly involves biblical hermeneutics and church politics. In fact, we might say that this is a case study in how to do church and it is instructive for us that the four dimensions of the ‘Wesleyan Quadrilateral’ were allowed to function creatively together. Scripture is certainly to the fore since James says ‘The words of the prophets are in agreement with this . . . .’ (Acts 15:15). In this instance, the traditionalist party clearly had what would have appeared to be the “weight” of Scripture behind them. Tradition and traditional understandings of Scripture were obviously under discussion. In fact, the Council would not have taken place except that ‘Some men came from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: ‘Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved’ (Acts 15:1). Reason and logic were also taken account of. James argued, “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God” (Acts 15:19) and the letter sent to the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia stated, ‘It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you . . . .’ (Acts 15:28). In addition the experience of God’s Spirit working with Peter, on the one hand, and Barnabas and Paul, on the other, carried great weight (Acts 15:7-14).”

Surprises:

  • “Some might argue that the order of the creation of Adam and Eve portrays a basic inequality between the two. In response, I would suggest that there is no hint of that in the creation accounts of Gen 1 and 2. While Adam is created first, the “order” of the creation narrative would forbid such a conclusion. Within the account there is a distinct progression from what we might construe as simple living things to the more complex (e.g., vegetation on the third day, birds and fish on the fifth day, and, finally, land animals and then humans on the sixth day. In addition, the “structure” of the creation account indicates the same kind of progression: what is formed on day 1 is filled on day 4; what is formed on day 2 is filled on day 5; and what is formed on day 3 is filled on day 6. In fact, ironically, one could actually argue for the superiority of Eve over Adam given the inherent structure within the narrative!…With the creation of the woman, the situation of Adam’s aloneness described by God as ‘not good’ (Gen 2:18), is now ‘very good’ (Gen 1:31).”

 

  • “Perhaps, even today we’ve not completely understood the implications of the position taken at this Jerusalem council, which made circumcision nothing, and uncircumcision nothing. No longer was the mark of the covenant something that only pertained to males, rather ‘Keeping God’s commands is what counts’ (1 Cor 7:19; cf., John 14:15, 23).”

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