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The Little Horn of Daniel (Again)

The Little Horn of Daniel (Again)

Since I grew up as a Seventh-day Adventist, I almost have to be interested in Daniel 8, particularly 8:14, which is critical to the development of the Adventist movement. For those not acquainted with that history, this is the verse from which the prediction of the second coming of Jesus on October 22, 1844 was derived. In turn, that doctrine developed into the doctrine of the investigative judgment, which I list as one of my reasons for not being an SDA today.

While at first my objections were exegetical and based on Daniel 8:14, I have come to be more concerned with the soteriology involved. I still hold to those original objections.

Thus I link to an article from Adventist Today, Why the Little Horn of Daniel 8 Must Be Antiochus Epiphanes. I would note that the author, Winston McHarg, resigned from the SDA ministry in 1978, while I was a student at Walla Walla College, and still a few years before I left the SDA church. For a short article, this one is well-done exegetically.

Why I Publish Books by and for Seventh-day Adventists

Why I Publish Books by and for Seventh-day Adventists

This may seem like a simple question. A better one might be, “Why not?”

Some Prefatory Remarks

sda booksSeventh-day Adventists (SDAs) are often misunderstood, which complicates the issue. If I had transferred my membership from a Presbyterian church, for example, to a United Methodist congregation, it’s unlikely anyone would ask me why I maintain relationships with Presbyterians. As an ex-SDA, however, I’m often asked questions like the one I’m trying to answer right now. SDAs ask me how I could possibly leave the church. At an SDA church where one of my authors was speaking, a young man exclaimed to me, “How could you possibly have difficulties with SDA doctrine?” If you want to understand why I left the SDA church or how I feel about it, you might try reading The Joys and Sorrows of Being ex-SDA.

Here’s my key point: While I disagree with the Seventh-day Adventist Church on a number of doctrinal points, especially on issues of prophecy and some applications of the (otherwise valuable) term “remnant people,” I still regard them as brothers and sisters in Christ, in the same way and on the same basis that I regard fellow Methodists, or members of Presbyterian, Baptist, Assemblies, United Church of Christ, independent, or any other Christian congregation. I have disagreements on doctrine with pretty much everyone I know (often including yesterday’s version of myself), and that doesn’t make me deny Christian fellowship.

But there are always those other questions about SDAs. They’re different, yes, but they’re more different in weirder ways than others. Which reminds me of the church Staff-Parish Relations committee that decided that an SDA speaker, who had also spoken at continuing education events for pastors at the conference level, could not be allowed to speak at their church. Having read something about Latter Day Saints, they were certain they didn’t want an SDA to speak. Surely we should stick to Methodist speakers.

There are two forms of ignorance here. 1) There’s ignorance of precisely who SDAs are and what they believe, and 2) There’s the ignorance of just how much weirdness we have in mainline denominations. If I need to find a crazy speaker, but am limited to those who are United Methodists, I will have no difficulty at all!

What I Publish

So what does this have to do with publishing?

Very little, actually. It’s just that people expect it to.

I frequently have to remind people that I am a Christian publisher, publishing books selected for a Christian audience. That doesn’t mean that all our readers are Christians. What’s more, it doesn’t mean that all our authors are Christians. In a blog post titled Why Did You Publish THAT Manuscript? (on the Energion blog), I noted that “We judge manuscripts and not authors here at Energion Publications.”

To me that is a rather obvious point, but it has raised questions. In order to guarantee the publishing of Christian authors only I would have to first define the boundaries of Christianity, and then make myself the judge of whether someone had met those criteria or managed to fall within those boundaries. I can do that for myself with regard to organizations and systems. It’s a simple matter of definitions and categorization. To do it with persons would be problematic. In fact, I personally simply accept anyone’s self-confession of what their religious view is.

Further, as publishers have discovered before, it’s much more difficult to determine whether a person is a good person than it is to determine whether a manuscript is a good manuscript. I choose to deal with manuscripts.

Seventh-day Adventists

I think my earlier remarks largely answer the question. When a manuscript by an SDA author seems to me to be of interest to my audience, an audience which definitely does include SDAs, I’ll publish it, always provided it meets other necessary criteria. I avoid publishing books that are of interest to only one denomination, for example.

Here are some specific points:

  • Am I on a mission to convert SDAs and get them out of the SDA church? No. I have no intention of persuading anyone to leave their denomination. In fact, I will state that if you’re leaving any church, including the SDA church, because of anger at the organization, you’re going to find plenty of imperfections wherever you go. If you leave a church congregation or a denomination, do so for positive reasons. I may disagree with some doctrines of the SDA church, and so I moved to an organization that is more doctrinally compatible with my views, but I applaud and highly value the SDA educational and health systems. I also value much of the theological work done by SDAs over the years. I can both disagree with, and value, ideas.
  • What about the seventh day Sabbath? I consider the Sabbath a part of one’s approach to worship and a spiritual practice. Where I have seen it carried out as a spiritual practice, I find the seventh day Sabbath valuable. As with any other activity, it can be converted into a legalistic “work,” but the key here is “any other activity.” Because keeping the seventh day as the Sabbath stands out as unusual, people take it as extraordinary evidence of legalism. But it’s simply one more practice that can be positive or negative. I have said before that I miss the Sabbath as practiced in SDA circles. I have other means of seeing sacred time, but there’s nothing that quite matches taking sacred time together with a community.
  • Don’t SDAs think they’re the only true Christians? Some of them do. So do one or two Methodists. I think this is a problem for the SDA church partly because of teaching about God’s remnant people. But I have no problem with SDAs as a group over it. Most SDAs that I encounter treat me as a fellow-Christian even though I have left the church. There are occasional folks who treat me as an apostate. I believe that could be solved if there were no people in the SDA church. As things are, we’re stuck with it.
  • But SDAs don’t believe we go to heaven when we die! Indeed they don’t. Neither do I. I think the Bible is actually quite unclear about what happens after death, but the balance, I believe, favors soul sleep and a resurrection. I just don’t happen to think it matters. Arguing about this is very time-bound thinking. If I die and go to heaven immediately, there will be one breath here and next (breath? who knows?) on the other side. If I die and sleep with God until the resurrection, there will be one breath here, and the next (whatever!) on the other side. I won’t know the difference. (I publish several books related to this: Eschatology: A Participatory Study Guide, From Here to Eternity, Journey to the Undiscovered Country, and the forthcoming Death, Immortality, and Resurrection. The first and last are by Edward W. H. Vick, an SDA author.)
  • SDAs believe in Ellen G. White, a false prophetess. Got you now! Ellen White did indeed have a great deal to do with the founding of the SDA church, though I find her own view of herself and her mission refreshingly humble. I also find a number of her writings to be excellent devotional works (Steps to Christ, Desire of Ages, etc.). We have a voluminous collection of her writings, including letters that she wrote over a long life. The SDA church has had some struggles over how to view her and her relationship to the Bible. Bluntly, however, I’ve found traditions in local congregations of the United Methodist Church that have more sacred standing, in practice, than her writings do in the SDA church. I would say, rather, that the church as a whole, and the modern Charismatic and Pentecostal movements in particular, would do well to learn from the SDA experience. Speaking of which, I’m in the process of releasing Inspiration: Hard Questions, Honest Answers by Alden Thompson. He deals with issues of Ellen White in connection with discussing biblical inspiration in a work that I think the wider church would do well to study.
  • How do I deal with SDA authors in my catalog and marketing? Like any other author. I’ll advertise their books for their own denomination, but also present them to others for their wider value. And just like any other author, SDAs may write something that’s addressed more to their own church than to others. In that case, they will be more likely to publish within the denomination, again just like any other author might. I neither emphasize nor do I conceal the denominational connections of my authors.
  • Do my SDA authors quote Ellen White in their works? Yes, and no. I tell them to quote Ellen White as they normally would and if it’s necessary, we will add an explanatory note to the book so that others can understand and still benefit. This is a function of the level of controversy surrounding her work, rather than any judgment of it that I might make. Because there is controversy, explanation is helpful. On the other hand, when addressing the larger Christian community, SDA authors often feel it’s best to make their points without reference to an SDA specific source.
  • Are you trying to provoke dissent in the SDA church? No more so than in any other church. I do have some books in my catalog that have gone out of print from SDA publishing houses. The level of controversy in the SDA church has nothing to do with my decision. I still judge the book, not the author, and certainly not any former publisher. But beware! I’m not the arbiter of truth, and certainly not the arbiter of SDA doctrine. If you don’t want your beliefs challenged, then it’s my hope that my books are not for you!

Conclusion

I publish SDAs in the same way and on the same basis as I publish anyone else. It’s that simple (he says 1600 words later)!

Adventists, Other Christians, and The Great Disappointment

Adventists, Other Christians, and The Great Disappointment

Substantially changing beliefs have been a defining characteristic of my life. That may be hard to comprehend. It’s even hard to write in a grammatical form. This admission makes some people uncomfortable. Why should they listen to me now, if I have already changed what I may have believed and advocated decades, years, or even months ago?

I can definitely understand the question. We seek certainty and safety. It’s thoroughly bred into us. Around the caveman campfire, the Saber Tooth Tiger fundamentalist was king. He knew what to do with that spear. He didn’t dither about whether to put out a side of meat, reach out his hand and say “nice kitty,” or kill the tiger.

But certainty also is dangerous, both when it is not justified and when circumstances change. Thus I embrace passionate action and enough uncertainty to make me willing to change my mind.

The largest single change was when I left the denomination I grew up in, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and became first unchurched, and then finally a United Methodist. There are those who find that change mind-boggling. Others find it obvious, as though anyone with adequate intelligence would have made the move.

Even in that dramatic change in my life I remained convinced of the value of the people whose views I was rejecting. I became an ex-SDA. There are a few SDAs who consider that horrifying. I have left the truth. I have become an apostate. I am now working for the enemy.

Let those who are not SDAs not rise up to cast the first stone. The condemnation from the SDA side meets its match on the other in those who say, “See! Just like those cultists! They can’t accept that you’ve come over to an orthodox community!” There’s an ironic twist to this accusation from folks who generally believe they have all the truth, are never wrong, and thus SDAs are cultists, especially because SDAs are, well, intolerant.

Last night in an interview I mentioned that it was a good thing God could work with people who are wrong. That way God can work with me. If you think God is working with you because you have everything right—I suspect you’re wrong about that! But I still believe God is working with and likely through you.

I’m an un-angry ex-SDA. I affirm the work of my former denomination in many areas while at the same time I differ, sometimes substantially, with that church in matters of doctrines. Differing in matters of doctrine is, I believe, good cause to find fellowship elsewhere. It is not good cause to belittle and condemn. Many mainliners find it very easy to condemn SDAs for views they, the mainliners, don’t even comprehend. I have lost count of the times someone has told me that they really don’t like SDAs because they have such incredibly false doctrines, then when I ask them just which doctrine they find so wrong, they fall back on, “Well, they’re a cult.”

And that leads me to Adventists and The Great Disappointment. There’s a great deal of detail around this event in Adventist history. There was a lesser disappointment before the “great” one. Prophetic interpretation was adjusted as people moved on. This happens frequently in many, many groups. This occurred before there was a Seventh-day Adventist Church as such, but SDAs grew out of the Millerite movement and the responses to this great disappointment.

When and what was this great disappointment? October 22, 1844. The expectation was that Jesus would return in glory and take His children home.

It didn’t happen. The day passed uneventfully.

Some Adventists came to believe that the date was right, but the event was different. This interpretation is one of the key elements of the reason why I am no longer an SDA myself. Yes, I can list specific doctrines and the interpretation of Daniel 8:14 is one of them. A rather minor one, that is. I could co-exist in a church with people who are wrong about how to interpret Daniel 8:14. Come to think of it, I manage to hang around a church in which I would be surprised if anyone could name the general topic addressed in Daniel 8.

It’s easy for mainline Christians to point fingers at those who name times for the coming of Jesus or who express excessive certainty about the end-times, life after death, or prophetic interpretation. After all, we have the perfect solution: Ignore those issues. Maybe nobody will notice.

On the other hand, the people who have been out on a limb, taken the plunge, made the hard call, and lived with the result may have something to say to us as well. That’s where I see SDAs and also other Adventist groups. They may have been disappointed. I may disagree with some of their interpretations even after the disappointment, but they’re still engaged with the topic.

And so I’m going to do a few things. Starting tomorrow I’m going to publish some articles by SDA authors, folks who are published by my company Energion Publications, specifically about the Great Disappointment and 1844. What might we learn from the experiences of the SDA church? Are we making any of the same mistakes as we read scripture? They felt they were faithful to scripture. We (and they) know they were wrong at the time. But do we carry on some of the same mistakes?

Join me Thursday night for a discussion on my weekly video study and then watch here and on the Energion Publications News blog for links as the remaining articles are published. The introductory article is already posted.

A Liberal Adventist Pastor and Young Atheists

A Liberal Adventist Pastor and Young Atheists

Pastor John T. McLarty, a Seventh-day Adventist who blogs at Liberal Adventist Pastor has posted his sermon for today, titled Church and Young Atheists as well as another related piece Questions My Kids Ask, written for the Green Lake Church Gazette.

I mostly want you to go, read these posts, and hopefully comment and enter the discussion. What I want to add here is that we need more pastors to try to hear what young people are saying, learn what they’re thinking and see how the church can respond. I have friends who are very leery of the idea of the church, or God, trying to be relevant. They suggest we should become relevant to God. And I agree that the end result is supposed to be that we become more Christ-like, more God-like. But I see the whole story of the Bible as God becoming relevant to us first, so that we have the opportunity to move on from there.

Too much of the discussion of young people that I hear has to do with our stereotypes of who they are and what they are doing. For example, there’s the stereotype of the atheist who was hurt at church and therefore really hates the church and not God. And, like most stereotypes, there’s a basis for this. There are many people who have distanced themselves from faith because of the people in the church.

But there are also those like the young lady Pastor McLarty describes, who have simply found too many things they were asked to believe by the church that they couldn’t manage. They aren’t really atheists. They disbelieve a number of things they were taught, are unsure about many others, and they have more important things to do with their lives than to try to create their own theological system.

Further, there are those I would call real atheists. These are people who have come to the conclusion for various reasons that there is no God. And yes, my Christian friends, these people exist. You can tell yourself that they aren’t real, that deep down they do believe and are just rebels. I’m sure it’s comforting at some level to pretend that this form of rejection of everything you hold dear doesn’t actually exist. But it does. Not only that, they’re generally good people, great neighbors, and credits to their communities.

Why am I saying all of this? Simply to say that in any conversation on any topic we need to listen to what the other person has to say and then respond to them, not to a label. And Pastor McLarty is quite correct that for those he was referring to, rolling out proofs of God’s existence isn’t really relevant. In fact, I rarely find that rolling out proofs of God’s existence, all of which are quite inadequate in so many ways, is the best approach. These “proofs” answer certain objections in certain ways, but they don’t really prove that the Christian God is real.

But that is another subject …

The SDA Chaplain of the Senate

The SDA Chaplain of the Senate

The Adventist review has a taste of Barry Black’s testimony, which makes excellent reading (HT: Dave Black Online).

As an ex-Seventh-day Adventist I find his story very interesting. In his career, he was fighting not just racial but also religious discrimination. Some people thought he shouldn’t be in his positions because he was black. Others thought his faith was a problem. His story is well worth reading.

I want to reiterate a few things I’ve said (perhaps too often) about being an ex-SDA. If you’re currently an SDA and you’re thinking of moving to another denomination, check your reasons. If, like me, you find your beliefs incompatible with your denomination, I consider it completely appropriate for you to find an organization you can support more wholeheartedly. In fact, I find it inappropriate for you to remain at that point!

There are several things to avoid, however:

  1. Leaving the SDA, or any church, because of personal issues with people. Those will be with you no matter what organization you join.
  2. Being dishonest with yourself about your reasons for leaving. Often point #1 leads people to claim some other reason, perhaps without even realizing it. You’re going to find people problems in all organization that have people. I don’t like the people of the United Methodist Church better than I did those of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. What I like is that I am more free to carry out ministry in the UMC, and that I also find its doctrinal positions much closer to, though not identical with, mine.
  3. Living with a legacy of hate. People leave denominations or even local church congregations angry. That’s not good for you. You’re not sticking it to your former church by remaining angry. You’re sticking it to yourself.
  4. Don’t live your life as an ex. I call myself ex-SDA when I need to talk about the SDA church and my relation to it. I don’t think of myself that way on a regular basis. I’m a Christian who is now a member of a United Methodist congregation. I used to be a Christian who was a member of a Seventh-day Adventist congregation. Whatever any of the members of these congregations may think of me, I consider them all brothers and sisters in Christ. I’m not some sort of paragon of virtue who experiences no anger or resentment. I just do my best by God’s grace to confess it and leave it behind. I don’t enjoy being called an apostate, but I’m not going to let it define me or my attitude(s).
  5. Always go to, not away from. Find the place where you will be able to be what the Lord wants you to be and serve as the Lord wants you to serve. Then go there. The physical journey is the same, but spiritually it is a much different thing.

These are just my recommendations. They were brought to mind by the story of Chaplain Black’s colleague who told him to change denominations as a career thing. I am impressed, though not surprised, by Chaplain Black’s response. He was absolutely right to stick with his convictions. I believe God honored him for that. I’m thankful for his testimony.

Confessional School vs. Freedom to Explore

Confessional School vs. Freedom to Explore

Peter Enns’ post, “If They Only Knew What I Thought” struck a chord with me and at the same time called up one of my concerns, or perhaps I should say areas of conflict.

I lived through this growing up as a Seventh-day Adventist and being educated in Seventh-day Adventist schools. In fact, I made a significant transition twice, once when I moved from schools in the self-supporting movement to those in mainstream adventism, and then out of the Seventh-day Adventist. Most evangelicals I’ve discussed this with have been quite supportive of my move. To many of them I moved from at least marginal heresy to a more orthodox form of Christianity.

But the same type of issues came up as I tried to decide what to do with my life after graduate school (at Andrews University, an SDA school), as I hear from evangelicals who go to secular schools. There were certain elements of my belief system that had changed, and others that I was still exploring. Could I be a Seventh-day Adventist? Could I be a Seventh-day Adventist teacher? I remember one professor saying to me during this period, “You don’t have to teach everything you know.” He was someone I respected, and still do. Yet I didn’t like his answer.

But what do you do when you not only see the boundaries of the permissible playing field looming, but think that perhaps you have crossed them? Is it right to continue to be a member of an organization you do not fully support? Is it right to teach for such an organization? Can you conceal what you actually believe in order to stay within the boundaries permitted?

We hear two sides of this conflict. The first is from people like me who have experienced changes in their understanding of scripture and doctrine, and feel the need of freedom to explore and to follow truth as they see it. We also feel the need to be honest with others. On the other side we have those institutional guardians who want to keep the faith pure. The former see the latter as barriers to truth, real spirituality, and scholarship. The latter view the former as persons who don’t fully care for the safety of the souls who gather in the pews.

I have a certain empathy with both sides. I recall a conversation with my uncle, Don F. Neufeld, associate editor at the time of the Review and Herald, of the SDA Bible Commentary, and editor of the SDA Bible Dictionary. Several of the issues I had (and still have) with SDA theology, and even with much evangelical theology, came up. In some cases he agreed with me against the common SDA position. In others, he didn’t. But he suggested to me a certain pastoral concern, a sensitivity to the people he served, and I was to serve. He told me how carefully he wrote at times, leaving the door open to exploration while not cutting the people off at the knees. Theology didn’t occur in a vacuum, according to him, it was something we did in service of God’s people.

While I couldn’t follow his advice at the time, and imagine I still would fail, I do understand what he’s talking about. A church community has to have some form of definition, and that definition will involve beliefs that are acceptable and ones that are not. If there are to be such institutions as confessional seminaries, schools operated by a religious community to support their needs and their people, there are going to be boundaries to the playing field.

If this were a matter of social clubs or of businesses, it would be easier. If you find yourself outside the boundaries of one, move to another. Such a solution can still work for someone who is raised as an Arminian, for example, and becomes Calvinist. I’ve known a few of those (and the reverse) and they usually just end up moving from one denomination to another to solve their problem. I think we would have little difficulty suggesting that someone who can no longer consider themselves Christian would do best to teach in a secular institution. Yes, this is not complete academic freedom. But it is also not deception. If the institution is operated by the Roman Catholic church, it is likely to have certain positions. If it’s Seventh-day Adventist it will have a different core perspective. (If it’s Methodist, of course, it will be whatever it turns out to be!)

My prayer would be that we set those boundaries as far out as we possibly can, to allow those who study and teach in church-related academic institutions to explore and challenge as much as possible. I think truth thrives in an atmosphere where it is challenged. Stupidity does not. For both those reasons challenge is good. But at the same time I would hope that all of us in our various churches would be prepared to gently help and encourage those who might need to find somewhere else to go.

I’ve managed to handle the “apostate” label before from those SDAs who see nothing but a rebellion against God that could get me out of the SDA church. I think most of them should be delighted that I left. I wouldn’t be making their lives easy from the inside. Perhaps a better approach would be to encourage someone to try their walk with God in another community. Don’t do this with the “left foot of fellowship.” Be welcoming, but at the same time don’t condemn the move to find someplace else. Encourage the exploration of other traditions.

There’s always going to be a tension between the need of the community to have cohesion and the need of scholars to explore. I believe that tension can be constructive rather than destructive.

(And as a final commercial, let me recommend a book I publish, Crossing the Street by Bob LaRochelle. Bob grew up Roman Catholic, was ordained a deacon, and is now a minister in the United Church of Christ. No, he’s not telling all Catholics to follow him. Rather, he’s encouraging us to look across to other faith traditions, learn, and feel the freedom to explore.)

Of United Methodists and Beth Moore

Of United Methodists and Beth Moore

From time to time various Methodists get very worked up about the idea that members of United Methodist congregations are using Beth Moore studies in their study groups and Sunday School classes. Via Facebook I encountered an older post regarding Methodists and Beth Moore. That article is actually quite restrained and gentle by comparison to some of the discussion I’ve heard. The author makes some good points, but I think, perhaps, not enough good points.

My first thought is that if you are a United Methodist pastor or church leader and your worst problem is that your members are spending too much time listening to Beth Moore, you should spend some serious time thanking the Lord for your blessings.

It’s not that I agree with everything Beth Moore says. In fact, I likely disagree with a good percentage. I really haven’t bothered to make a list. She’s probably more literal than I am, and we doubtless disagree on matters of biblical criticism. Besides, I don’t particularly like watching videos in a study group or class. I’d rather get together to actually study or listen to someone who is present. So my point is not to be an apologist or a critic — of Beth Moore, that is.

What I’m wondering is why so many people in the church, and particularly the United Methodist Church (since I’m a member), think they can or should control what people hear.

Oh, I know the arguments. We have a responsibility to teach good theology. We have a duty to teach sound biblical knowledge. We are Methodists (or whatever), after all, and that should mean something!

Should it really? I find denominations useful, sort of. They could be a great means of getting us to work together for missions that are bigger than local church congregations. Ideally, they can provide some sort of accountability. I happen to like the United Methodist doctrinal distinctives, which is why I joined a Methodist congregation.

Trouble is, I found out rather quickly that very few Methodists were aware of their doctrinal positions, if it’s proper to call these positions “theirs” if they don’t know what they are. Before I joined my first United Methodist congregation I asked for something that would tell me what Methodists believed, officially and clearly. The pastor gave me a copy of the United Methodist Discipline, clearly with serious misgivings. I loved it. Well, the first 100 pages or so. The rest is well nigh useless, and I’m convinced that most gospel work done by Methodists results from someone ignoring the rules.

After reading that first part of the Discipline, I decided I could get on board with this new church, and so I joined. Then I discovered that Methodists weren’t really acquainted with their own history. The orientation to the church, in which one speaker explained that John Wesley had been influenced by Karl Marx (perhaps with the intervention of Dr. Who, though he made no mention of it), was biblically, doctrinally, and historically ignorant.

The pastor invited me to teach a series on Sunday nights about the doctrine of Christian Perfection. I was interested to note that there are two full statements of this doctrine in the Discipline, and chose to start from that point. As I flashed up my overhead transparencies, I was disappointed to discover that nobody was interested in the fact that there were two statements (really a bit more complicated than that), because they hadn’t been aware that there was even one. I found that growing up Seventh-day Adventist, I had learned more about John Wesley and Wesleyan theology than I would find around the Methodist church.

This was not a matter of personal pride. I had these things drilled into me as a child. I really couldn’t have avoided knowing them if I wanted to. Further, I’d be unlikely to complain about the problem, except for a related tendency I found as time went on.

That related tendency was the idea that we needed to make sure to teach Methodists only Methodist doctrine, thus protecting them from all that other stuff that was flooding the world. If we could just keep them listening to only Methodist teachers, everything would be OK. Unfortunately, I suspect that most crazy ideas have a Methodist champion somewhere.

Now there are a number of non-Methodist doctrines I would love to protect Methodists from. I wouldn’t mind protecting everyone else as well. The whole Left Behind series and related “prophecy” material would be a start. I don’t like it and I don’t even like to have to take the time to respond to it. It’s that bad. In my opinion, of course.

But people are going to hear that point of view of the book of Revelation and other apocalyptic literature, and I’m going to have to respond. And despite any tendency to wish it would go away, I know I’m wrong to do so. The right response is to do better teaching on other views. If we get people studying for themselves and help them to learn to study well, they will find the flaws in these various trends on their own.

Or they might come up with the arguments that would make me realize I’ve been wrong. Regarding the whole futurist/dispensational view of prophecy, I doubt they will, but they could. The point is that they should have the opportunity to do so.

What’s more, with modern media and the internet, it’s ridiculous to think that you will protect your congregation from hearing things you’d rather they not hear. Telling people they can’t study certain things or hear certain speakers is likely to have the opposite effect.

And then there’s the question of whether you really have anything better to teach at all. I’ve heard this type of complaint from people who couldn’t construct a sound biblical argument in a room full of commentaries (even if they ignored the commentaries!). They simply wouldn’t know. But they can tell whether a teacher’s denominational credentials are in order.

I recall one church that had a young adult class that was growing and getting popular. There were young adults who didn’t even attend church who were coming to the class and enjoying the discussions. The church leadership, clearly dismayed at the success of this class, decided they needed to bring it under control. They were reading and discussing unapproved books. So they found a teacher who would follow the party line, and thus managed to reduce the membership of the class to zero in a mere four weeks.

Another Methodist church wanted Methodist materials, but in their absence was prepared to gut some Southern Baptist materials, removing reference to such dangerous doctrines as salvation, so people would, at least, not hear the gospel message from a Baptist perspective, even if no Methodist perspective was to be offered instead.

I’ve mentioned growing up in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. In the church I encountered censorship rather regularly. In order to keep apart from the world it was important to read SDA materials and to stick with the SDA agenda. I was watched when teaching to make sure I wasn’t leading people astray. I kind of expected that kind of censorship due to the nature of the denomination. Since other churches were leading people straight to the Mark of the Beast, we obviously shouldn’t be listening to anything they said, lest we too go whoring after the beast and his image.

I’ve heard both liberals and conservatives claim that all censorship is done by the other camp, but my observation is that both have a tendency to decide that they’re correct. That’s actually not a bad thing. Surely if one thinks one is wrong one will change one’s view. The problem is that certain people decide that they have to impose their rightness on others. Not persuade, impose. And that’s going to fail.

So my suggestion to a pastor who hears that a group in his church is using Beth Moore studies is to first rejoice that they care enough to study. Then if you object to some of the content you should first make sure you know what it is and what is being taught, and then teach what you believe is right. Do it vigorously, make it relevant, and show your love of scripture as you do so. One thing that came out clearly in the post I linked and in the comments is that people appreciate Beth Moore’s love of scripture. I know from experience that if you are teaching from your heart and you have paid the price in study and prayer time, people are going to listen when you teach.

Do you, as a pastor, exhibit that same love? Can your congregation tell that you’re seriously studying, doing your best to understand, and sharing what you have learned? Do they detect that you have spent time on your knees when your preach or teach? Or is your only real response to point them to a list of Methodist (or other denominational) doctrines?

There is a group in the Methodist church, as there was in the Adventist church in my youth (and friends tell me still is), and I suspect in every church, who consider “but it’s not Methodist!” a good argument. But there are less and less of these people. You need a better argument.

I believe that there are plenty of people in the United Methodist Church (I wonder why I keep typing “untied” for “united” and having to correct myself) who love scripture and love to learn more. There are plenty more who are hungry to hear and want to learn how to study. You’re not going to draw them away from one source without providing another.

But even more importantly, if they hear the scriptures taught in different ways, from different perspectives, by people who truly love to study God’s word, they’re going to be enriched by it. Even if they come to the conclusion that some of it is wrong.

Especially if they come to the conclusion that some of it is wrong.

Are You Preserving Holy Bricks?

Are You Preserving Holy Bricks?

There’s an insightful article on the Spectrum Magazine web site titled Holy Bricks. This one deals particularly with Seventh-day Adventist bricks, but the principles discussed apply anywhere. I have yet to encounter a community that doesn’t have a few holy bricks to deal with. I particularly liked the point where a constituent in a meeting said, “I don’t care if we don’t have a single student left, you’re not going to close our school!” I suspect most church leaders have heard the equivalent.

There is a time to move forward in faith, but I don’t think that time coincides with our desire to preserve holy bricks. In any case, read the whole article. There are some great thoughts there.

Trouble at My Alma Mater – Walla Walla University

Trouble at My Alma Mater – Walla Walla University

Over the last few weeks I’ve been following events at my undergraduate alma mater, Walla Walla University, largely via the Spectrum Magazine blog, starting with the news that Pastor Alex Bryan of the Walla Walla University Church had been recommended as president by a search committee. Now it has been a number of years since I was a student at WWU and I don’t know the players personally. But as the story developed (you can follow it by using the search box at the link shown above and searching for either Bryan or McVay), various groups got together to campaign against Dr. Bryan, and the board, while considering him sound enough theologically to pastor the university church, decided they didn’t want him as president of the university.

If I had been leaving the SDA church for personal reasons, this would have been one of them, “this” being the tendency of various small groups to get together to guarantee the total orthodoxy of all selections. My lifelong missionary parents even saw their membership blocked at a local SDA church.

But wait a minute … I said “if”.

The reason I bring this story up is as the backdrop for saying quite clearly: If you’re thinking of leaving your church for personal reasons (solely or even primarily), don’t!

If I had left the SDA church for personal reasons, I would long since have found an equal number of reasons for leaving every church in which I have held membership since. The specific issues are different, but human nature remains the same. It is so easy to start a rumor campaign. One doesn’t even have to plan it. But when you add a little fear, such as people thinking “maybe our church won’t be the same as it always was,” and you can have a full campaign going before you know it. Fight it where you are, because it may well happen elsewhere.

Perhaps this is why gossip is considered such a serious sin in Scripture. Paul often includes it with his “sin lists.” It’s right there in Romans 1:28-32, but for some reason I’ve never heard a sermon preached from that passage that concentrated on gossip as a sin. If we have any sin in the church that we refuse to give up and that we tolerate openly in contradiction to Scripture, I’d suggest gossip for the title. And just because gossip is spread through Facebook groups or on Twitter doesn’t make it any less gossip.

But this is the other side of the coin. I said don’t leave your church if your reasons are personal, including this one. I’d suggest that one’s choice of a church home should be based on where you can carry out your call to ministry as a member of the body of Christ. All of us are called to ministry, and our faith community should be helping us carry out that call. You may have to leave a more gossipy church for a less gossipy one, assuming you can find one. But consider that God may be calling you to stay where you are and try to make things better.

I have doctrinal disagreements with the SDA church that make it impossible for me to be a member. But I continue to be a member of a very imperfect church, just an imperfect church where God is working through the efforts of many imperfect people–like me.

If we’d think more about service and less about our own comfort and safety, I think things would go much better.

Have You Ever Crossed the Street?

Have You Ever Crossed the Street?

Crossing the StreetNo, I don’t mean this in the very literal sense, but either in the spiritual sense or in terms of affiliation. One of the defining experiences of my life involves crossing the street in this sense. I grew up as a Seventh-day Adventist. That involves quite a number of things, including keeping the Sabbath (Saturday) as a day of rest and worship, accepting certain ideas regarding the last days (eschatology), and rules for dressing, eating and drinking.

In my case, I can easily see my life experience as multiple street-crossings. Most of my younger years were spent in the self-supporting organizations in Adventism. These formed, at the time, a sort of subculture within Adventism that was stricter in adherence to many of the teachings of the church. I moved from that to a more mainstream Adventism before I left the church entirely. I then spent time outside of any church and quite determined I would never be involved again. Finally, I found my way into a United Methodist congregation, where at first my feeling was that I had found a place of comfort. Then I got active and engaged in the work of the church again. Each of these experiences involved some aspect of “crossing the street.”

Bob LaRochelle has just written an essay for Energion.net regarding the current controversy in the Catholic church regarding American sisters religious (nuns). It’s well worth checking out.

I’m getting the crossing the street metaphor from a book my company recently published, titled—you guessed it!—Crossing the Street. That book, by Dr. Bob LaRochelle, describes his personal journey of crossing the street, moving from the Roman Catholic Church to the United Church of Christ. In it, he gives two reads of the metaphor “crossing the street.” The first is a negative one, in which one crosses the street to avoid what one believes is evil. “Don’t get too near the Catholics!” the protestant might say, or vice versa. But crossing the street can, as Bob makes clear, also be a positive experience.

I have encountered the negative view of crossing the street many times in negative reactions to my own street crossing. Seventh-day Adventists find it hard to understand that I could leave their church. The more conservative of them regard me as an apostate, more to be avoided than even the ordinary non-believer. (To some SDAs, non-believers include most non-SDA Christians.) Others express understanding that I had problems with the church organization, but can’t imagine how I could have problems with the doctrines. Others assume that I’ve found a kinder, gentler organization in the United Methodist Church, and that must explain everything.

Non-SDAs who know my background often wonder why I don’t go hammer and tongs against the horrible heresies perpetrated by the Adventist church. Surely I should use my extensive knowledge of Adventism (I’m a graduate of an SDA college with an MA from the graduate school at Andrews University, earned in conjunction with the SDA Theological Seminary) to rip apart all those wrong people.

My approach is different. I value my experiences growing up as an SDA. I can reject certain elements of what I was taught without decided that the entire experience (or those I experienced it with) are horrible, without value, and not deserving of respect. In fact, I like to encourage SDAs to get into more dialog with the larger church and the larger church to get into dialog with them. There are things we can learn from the SDA experience. There are things they can learn from us.

This street crossing is very much a part of who I am. It forms a lifelong defining experience.

So when I got a proposal for a book titled Crossing the Street and discovered what it was about, I was excited. At the same time, I figured this experience would be different, because the author was moving from the Roman Catholic Church to mainline Protestantism. And, as I had learned thoroughly in growing up, there really is no organization less like the SDA Church than the Roman Catholic Church.

Wrong! Bob’s experiences in crossing the street were very similar to my own. The authority issues in the Catholic church were similar to those I found in the SDA church. What was more, Bob had moved from the Catholic church to the United Church of Christ and still saw great value in his former tradition. Instead of seeing it as a change of sides in a war, he saw his move as a new opportunity to improve dialog.

One of the things I like to emphasize to my SDA friends is that if you leave the SDA church, don’t do it because you think you’re going to find the perfect church, one without the problems in SDA churches. There are many things in the SDA church that I’ll criticize. I follow the news. I see some of the things being done currently, such as the rejection of the La Sierra University Choir by an SDA academy in Michigan, and they make me angry.

But the United Methodist Church doesn’t get everything right either. Not even close! Many of these things are based on the same human emotions as those in the SDA or the Roman Catholic churches.

I wish I had read Crossing the Street before I crossed the street. It wouldn’t have prevented the crossing, but it would have saved me time in terms of finding my balance. Yes, this book talks about a change from the Roman Catholic Church to the United Church of Christ, but it would have facilitated my own move from SDA to United Methodist just as well. In fact, I commend this to my SDA and ex-SDA friends as an example of a healthy attitude to take to such changes. I suspect that others will find similar help.