by Ervin Taylor
There is an advantage of using historic categories such as ‘Sadducees’ and associating it with some modern religious grouping. The advantage is you can associate almost any kind of religious belief or behavior with a modern group whether they were actually a religious emphasis or characteristic of that ancient group or not. This is largely because the most important differences that distinguished historic religious groups are rarely relevant in any modern context.
In this case, one could say the Sadducees represent contemporary Adventist liberals and the Pharisees contemporary Adventist conservatives. Or one could argue the reverse and one could probably make a reasonable argument supporting either of these opposite attributions. Either way, it seems to me kind of strange to say that Jesus liked or did not like one of these groups more than he liked or disliked the other. He had very little good to say about either one. His revolutionary instincts dismissed any group associated with an institutionalized religious system as totally irrelevant to God’s ‘New Order’ that was both coming and already present.
The point is that in using such categories, it allows you to make almost any kind of statement you want depending on what kind of beliefs you wish to endorse or reject. You can then associate those positive or negative beliefs with some ‘good’ or ‘bad’ ancient group depending on what religious concept(s) or point(s) of view you are or are not supporting. The real, factual world of groups and sub-groups and their opinions is always much more complex and messy than the rhetorical categories we like to use to endorse or reject some set of ideas which we like or do not like.
I have been reading a recently published (2011) a slim volume written by the former General Conference (GC) president, Dr. Jan Paulsen entitled, Where Are We Going? It will be the subject of a future book review. I assume that no one is going to dispute the assertion that Dr. Paulsen was the best formally educated individual ever to be GC president. His doctoral degree is from a very distinguished European university. Anyone who has talked to him realizes quickly he is a very intelligent and well-informed individual. (I will resist to the uttermost my dark side who wishes to compare and contrast Dr. Paulsen with the current GC president)
I was very interested in Dr. Paulsen’s take on Adventist liberals and conservatives. In this book, he makes two brief but very specific comments. The first: “Perhaps the most unhelpful line we draw within our church is the line between ‘conservatives’ and ‘liberals.’ These labels pigeonhole people, generate suspicion and fear, and lead us to make judgments about another person’s commitment or spirituality – judgments that belong only to God” (p. 97). The second: “Some words are just not helpful for our community of pilgrims. Labels such as ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative,’ ‘rebel’ and ‘loyalist,’ ‘progressive’ and ‘reactionary’ lead to caricatures and vilification. They create a spirit and atmosphere that should not exist in our churches” (p. 122).
He quickly adds, “This is not to say that such differences [between liberals and conservatives] don’t exist [in the Adventist Church]. They do, and we encounter them regularly. But the language of polarization will only move people who already stand some distance apart, even farther away from each other. Adventist leaders have a special responsibility to guard the atmosphere within our churches jealously and to reject language that inflames or incites” (p. 122-123).
One wonders if he wishes his concerns to be read by the current ‘leader’ i.e., editor, of the Adventist Review? How should we react when those writing as regular contributors to that ‘flagship journal’ of the Adventist Church incite readers to look with suspicion on those Adventists who, for example, allegedly, “reject much of Scripture” (Nash) or declare that Adventists holding certain views about earth history are not “real Adventists” (Goldstein).
Who are the Adventist Neo-Sadducees? They can be anyone whose theological ideas a writer wishes to discredit and marginalize.