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Nobody Ever Thinks They Are Creating a New Denomination

Nobody Ever Thinks They Are Creating a New Denomination

kineso ten luchnian
Revelation 2:5

Christopher Ritter is complaining, though only in the nicest, most creative way, about critics of the new Wesleyan Covenant Association. It’s interesting how efforts to reform often end up creating new denominations, even when the leaders don’t intend to do so. Just look at the example provided by Ritter in his post.

I commend Ritter for his excellent way of presenting his complaint, but at the same time I have to ask whether a movement to reform the United Methodist Church at this point is not also likely to contribute to the division of the denomination. It seems that we require such organizations to deny that they contemplate schism in any way. It’s part of the game. I suspect that the WCA people are entirely sincere in that desire.

Reality may not be on their side.

I’m a member of a United Methodist congregation. I would note that when my wife and I discussed the idea of moving to a new church prior to this move, we thought that our next church congregation would not be part of the UMC, but here we still are, and here we will stay as long as we believe God is leading us to do so.

What I’m not going to do is get stirred up over the survival of denominational structures. My friends sincerely wish to prevent schism, but as a church, we’re the product of a group that broke off from a group that broke off, and that earlier break-off was not very holy, I might note. Not to mention that I don’t see very much Jesus in the structures of any of the above.

Unless the Holy Spirit changes a bunch of people, the UMC is at an impasse over same-sex marriage and inclusion of LGBT people. We are a divided church. We can claim to be united, but it’s a fake. The question is whether the structures will follow the actual practice or whether we will continue to find ways (and spend large amounts of money) to pretend.

What is needed is to change our focus to become Christ’s body in the world, Christ’s witnesses, the bearers and proclaimers of Christ’s gospel. We are a church that is apathetic, self-centered, and wasteful. We are more concerned with our buildings and our power than with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

But that is something that can change. I don’t know about the denomination, but the only person who needs to change in this is me. And you. And you. Each of us.

Is the church building taking up more money than caring for your neighbors? Get rid of it.

Do you pay more for Sunday School curriculum than for evangelism or textbooks for needy children? Cut it out of your budget!

Is your primary concern for your worship service done your way at your time? Drop it. Be concerned about your neighbors.

If you let the gospel become central, many things that seem critical right now will fade into the background. You may not change church headquarters, but you can change you.

A UMC House Church

A UMC House Church

nt church booksOne of the points I have tried to make in my series regarding the books Seven Marks of a New Testament Church, Thrive: Spiritual Habits of Transforming Congregations, and Transforming Acts: Acts of the Apostles as a 21st Century Gospel is that one can follow these “Jesus principles” of church leadership under many different formal structures. Some structures may make it harder than others, but I suspect it is more that each structure has different strengths and weaknesses, mostly the result of the fact that all of them involve humans.

Here’s a video about a house church under the UMC banner. You won’t see anything “non-Wesleyan” here, or violations of the Book of Discipline, but you will see a creative and dynamic living out of the Christian faith. This is certainly a thriving congregation, carrying out transforming acts, and showing marks of a New Testament church!

In Which I Question My #UMC Membership Vows

In Which I Question My #UMC Membership Vows

There’s been a great deal of talk about schism in the United Methodist Church (#UMC) over the last couple of days. It hasn’t disturbed me in the way it has disturbed many of my friends, but it has made me ask this question: Why?

No, not why might we have schism. Why don’t I care more?

I’ve said before that if I left the UMC, it would doubtless have something to do with apportionments. I don’t have a problem with the basic concept, and unlike many, my problem is not that some of my apportionments might support someone who takes some particular stance on homosexuality. I’m sorry, but in a complacent, self-satisfied, rich, apathetic, and unaware American church, a church that is spending much more on maintaining its institutions than on building the kingdom of God, I can’t convince myself that homosexuality is the most important issue we have. How we treat other people, yes. Institutional rules, no.

Here’s an example. Via Allan Bevere (also an Energion author), I discovered the suggestion that the United Methodist Church officially embrace the Nicene Creed, which we apparently don’t. The problem? It would take us a minimum of eight years to accomplish this mission. Then we’d be protected from false doctrine, like all the other churches who embrace the Nicene Creed. Oops!

Don’t get me wrong. I do, in fact, embrace that creed. I’m just thinking that having our general conference debate the issue for the next 8+ years isn’t really going to help us much.

I think it’s my view of denominations. I think denominations are should be a good way for us to group our resources so we can be more effective in building the kingdom of God. Single congregations have some limitations in terms of resources, so they need to work together. I didn’t (and don’t) think it’s necessary or good for all our connections to be within our denomination. I don’t think it’s a good thing when we build our denomination instead of building the kingdom. I think that the amount of time, effort, and money, not to mention words, that is spent on institutional issues indicates that our priorities are not right.

The question I’d ask about schism in the UMC is this: How can we get on with the work of the gospel with the least disruption?

Let’s forget about who owns buildings, and who we like and who we don’t. Go about it in a Christ-like manner. Let people form the institutions they think they need. I personally doubt I’d like either half of a split UMC, but I don’t have to like it. I just have to find the place God calls me to minister. It’s as likely I could find a congregation where God called me to be after as before.

And if you don’t mind, I’m a Christian first and a member of a United Methodist congregation second. As a Christian, I’m going to go right on embracing the Nicene Creed. Don’t go it alone? I’m not. There are hundreds of millions of Christians who do so along with me. We don’t need another eight year debate.

That’s my primary loyalty. To the gospel. As long as I’m a part of a United Methodist congregation, I’ll support it with my prayers, presences, gifts, service, and witness. But if God calls or the institution falls, I’ll go right on following where the Lord leads as best as I can.

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.

Is the UMC Dying?

Is the UMC Dying?

I tried not to steal the headline from the article by Rev. Robert Rynders in UM-Insight, The Church Isn’t Dying, It’s Already Dead, but this post is largely to tell you to go read that post.

After reading his article and thinking about the good things I’ve seen happening in some United Methodist churches — and I see quite a few good things happening — is that most of the good things result from people deciding to just do something good in their own congregation or community rather than spending their time on denominational politics.

I will confess to being strongly attracted to this idea simply because I simply can’t stand church politics. It’s not that I’m better than all the other people. It’s just that when we get into committees we all seem to turn into some form of alien monsters. So I’m naturally inclined to accept Rev. Rynders’ thesis. It lets me feel better when I ignore the politics.

What about you? What do you think?

The UMC and Innovation

The UMC and Innovation

Or you might say, denominations (or even just “organizations”) and innovation.

We don’t have to work within the system if we don’t want to. We can work without it. We can go outside of it. We can leave it if it continues to stifle us.

I might have preferred “if God calls us to,” but the author gets around to that:

The simple question should always be, “What does God want me to be doing right now?” We have a responsibility to discern where God is at work in the world, and to participate in it.

In the end, if you can’t do the innovative work that God wants you to do within the structure of a denomination, then you must leave.

Oh, yes, the link. Why I Doubt the UMC Can Handle Innovation. Make sure to follow the links back to the article he’s responding to and previous responses.

I’ve seen plenty of people stifled by the denomination, but not just by the United Methodist Church. Those of us who are older (physically or in the faith) tend to want to keep others from making mistakes. But we can often suppress those who are moving forward with the work of the gospel by preventing what we think are “mistakes.”

Starting with the Local Congregation – or with Me

Starting with the Local Congregation – or with Me

Dave Black responded to my previous post on the United Methodist Church by referring to some thoughts he has had on his own denomination. I want to quote them here, since Dave’s blog doesn’t make linking to a particular entry possible.

7:55 AM Noted Methodist blogger Henry Neufeld ponders the question, How to cure the UMC? He asks:

How much time needs to go into preserving the organization? Is such time well spent? Those are questions that concern me these days.

For what it’s worth, Henry, I once pondered a similar question regarding my own denomination. The bottom of the bottom line for me?

I came away from the convention with a new realization that a Great Commission resurgence will not begin at the denominational level. It will end there. A Great Commission commitment must begin in our homes and marriages, and then in our local churches, each one of them. This is clearly the pattern of the book of Acts. The church at Antioch, the world’s first missional church, is proof of that.

I hope that all of this gets sorted out at the denomination level (and I predict that it will, eventually). But even if it doesn’t, there is nothing to keep me and my local church from doing all we can to help advance God’s kingdom on earth. (From Dave Black Online)

I have found that the concerns of people who are seeking to be servants and missionaries in different denominations are remarkably similar. We have some doctrinal differences, but we struggle with issues of getting the church active. I believe that if we get people studying the Bible, praying, and seeking the unity of the Spirit, doctrinal differences will tend to fade to the background. They’ll either be found to be non-essential or we’ll discover where we each need to change. I think we can be very patient with “erring brethren.” After all, we are ourselves erring brethren, almost by definition!

What I must keep in focus is simply this: God hasn’t called me to solve all the problems of the church. He hasn’t called me to make sure everyone else is fulfilling the great commission. He has called me to be transformed by looking to Him, and to fulfil my call to service.

I don’t mean that I can “be the church” alone. Rather, I can do a much better job of being part of the body if I’m spending more time correcting my own manifold flaws than I spend trying to correct those of others. Much more time, in fact!

UMC Pastoral Accountability: What About Bishops?

UMC Pastoral Accountability: What About Bishops?

United Methodist Insight led me to Jeremy Smith’s article, Defeating the Dark Side of Church Metrics. I recommend the second link because of comments. Since one commenter talks about people who oppose accountability but who receive their paycheck from the church, let me note that I am a United Methodist layman, and I do not receive support from the church. I put those little pieces of paper in the offering plate, not vice-versa. (Read the comments to Jeremy’s post if you don’t get this!)

I have been very interested in this debate because I believe strongly in accountability and at the same time don’t see conference dashboards providing the right sort of accountability. I have encountered United Methodist pastors that I thought shouldn’t be shepherding actual sheep, much less church-member-sheep. There are a few poor excuses for pastors out there. But at the same time there are churches that are more difficult to manage than others. (Out of This World describes one. Full disclosure – my company publishes that book.) There are also large numbers of wonderful pastors, trying to fulfill their call, and being hampered by a dying (perhaps suicidal?) church.

So the first thing I noticed was that the metrics being used are not properly weighted. My initial impression is that our bishops are numerically challenged. But that’s not really the problem. They have the numbers. What they don’t have is enough context for the numbers. And while one can hope that when the cabinet discusses appointments, such context will be provided by people who are in the field, when one reads a conference dashboard—say North Alabama—one doesn’t have that context. So the public face of the metrics is without adequate context, in my view.

But I’m just a Methodist layman. Jeremy Smith has looked into this and is suggesting we change the way we do metrics. Much of what he suggests resonates with me. I have to confess that I’m not connectional enough to care whether a particular local church is giving to United Methodist or non-UM projects for the most part. I have a tendency to call myself “a member of a United Methodist congregation” more often than I call myself United Methodist. But in general, he’s talking about the right things, and the charts he uses (see his post for sources) can be helpful in looking at those things.

But ultimately I don’t think any set of numbers will do the job adequately. Numbers can be helpful, but in the end someone has to take responsibility, prayerfully discern the situation in each ministry situation, and make a call. I’d think the person to take that responsibility in our polity would be a bishop. That’s unfortunate, in a way, as bishops supervise too many churches to really understand all their local church communities, no matter how well one designs and then completes charts and reports. It would be better for such responsibility to fall on someone at the district superintendent level, but I don’t want to beat up on DS’s too much, as I perceive their job to involve taking all the blame, getting none of the credit, and having no actual authority to do anything about it. I exaggerate, but the DS does have to work largely by exhorting pastors below and bishops above.

Bishops are elected for life, and we should imagine they are elected because their fellow pastors discern in them special gifts and a special call from God. But is there any point at which a person should no longer be called to account? I want to say there is no such point, but in our clumsy Methodist structure, I’m not sure if we’ve given bishops the authority to accomplish what they need to either. I’m no Book of Discipline expert, but I base this on observation.

I would say the same thing for every level of the church.

1) Provide responsibility with adequate authority to fulfill it

2) Place those with the responsibility to hold one accountable in a position to evaluate and act

3) Hold everyone accountable according to the authority given.

Incidentally, this leaves us with the power vacuum at the top of the United Methodist Church. There is nobody to hold everyone from bishops to boards and agencies accountable. The members of the church at large should do this, but the authority structure is so bizarre that few Methodists know who is accountable for what. We obviously fear strong executive power, but the advantage to such power would be that the membership could understand that if the agencies don’t do what the general conference votes, there is one person, or one small group, who should be held accountable for failing in their task.

Or—and it matters little to me, so long as we do one or the other—we could just become congregational and admit we have little control over what’s happening, and that such control as we do have is generally hampering the gospel rather than helping.

UMC Rather than SDA – Again

UMC Rather than SDA – Again

This was brought to my attention when I read the text of Ted Wilson’s address to the SDA General Conference. (I listened to he first 10 minutes as well, but preferred reading.) Why am I interested in the sermon presented by the new president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists? I am, after all, a member of a United Methodist congregation.

There are three reasons. First, I was raised SDA, and one’s upbringing tends to stay with one. In this case I’m not at all sorry about my background. I received an excellent education in SDA schools and being homeschooled using SDA materials. I had many wonderful experiences as a member of the SDA church. Second, I still have friends and colleagues who are SDA, and I appreciate their friendship and their ministry. Finally, I still hear the question pretty regularly: “Why are you no longer a Seventh-day Adventist?”

I should note that there is another common question that arises in connection with the first, which is to ask just why I’m not an angry ex-SDA. It seems that there are so many of those. I’d simply like to point out that one can disagree with the positions an organization takes and can determine that one should not be a member of that organization without also hating that organization, or even thinking that organization is negative on balance.

From the other side I get the question of why I will not more forcefully distance myself from “that cult.” The reason for that is that while I disagree vigorously with certain positions of the SDA church, I do not believe it is any more or less likely that a member might be a true Christian or not. I could hardly give statistics since I don’t believe it is up to me to judge. What I am concerned with is mission and ministry.

Before I give a brief response to the question of why I am now a member of a United Methodist congregation, rather than still being SDA, I want to look at some quotes from Ted Wilson’s sermon. (You can find the complete text here, so you can put these into context. I provide page numbers.)

As I read this text I felt a concern for my many friends who are members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. At the same time I feel a concern for what I see as the potential blessing that the SDA church could be to the broader Christian community.

Let’s look at some quotes:

This church is not just another denomination; it is a unique, heaven-initiated movement with a mission of salvation to the world that must continually go forward in the humility of Jesus. pp. 3-4

In my view, the “unique, heaven-initiated movement with a mission of salvation to the world” is not the SDA church but the universal Christian church. This is a critical point for me. If Seventh-day Adventists believe they have a message for the rest of Christianity, I think that is a positive thing, and they should be heard, not relegated to the status of a “cult.” But that line puts a single denomination in the position in which the church universal should be placed. I think it would be difficult to find a scriptural warrant for such a thing. This quote figures in the most critical reason I’m not SDA.

Go forward, not backward…….Do not succumb to the mistaken idea, gaining support even in the
Seventh-day Adventist Church, of accepting worship or evangelistic outreach methods merely because
they are new and “trendy.” We must be vigilant to test all things according to the supreme authority of
God’s Word and the council with which we have been blessed in the writings of Ellen G. White. Don’t
reach out to movements or megachurch centers outside the Seventh-day Adventist Church which promise
you spiritual success based on faulty theology. Stay away from non-biblical spiritual disciplines or
methods of spiritual formation that are rooted in mysticism such as contemplative prayer, centering
prayer, and the emerging church movement in which they are promoted. Look WITHIN the Seventh-day
Adventist Church to humble pastors, evangelists, Biblical scholars, leaders, and departmental directors
who can provide evangelistic methods and programs that are based on solid Biblical principles and “The
Great Controversy Theme.” p. 7

That’s a longer quote, even though it carries a great deal of baggage. It is, I believe, a call to look inward. I would point out that this impulse is not exclusive to Seventh-day Adventists. My wife was in a curriculum meeting in a United Methodist church in which a piece of curriculum was criticized for being “too Baptist” and having “too much Jesus.”

If you have to look only within your own denomination in order to keep people on the road to truth, I have to question whether it is truth you are protecting. In both Wilson’s paragraph, and the remarks made in that curriculum committee, what is being protected is power, not truth. Truth can withstand examination.

Go forward, not backward! Stand firm for God’s Word as it is literally read and understood. p. 8

All I can say is that this statement and its many variants is probably the worst advice on Bible study that is commonly given–and unfortunately believed by many. Even in reading a vision, such as the book of Revelation, people are told to think literally. Bad advice! Very bad advice!

This unbiblical approach of “higher criticism” is a deadly enemy of our theology and mission. This approach puts a scholar or individual above the plain approach of the scriptures and gives inappropriate license to decide what he or she perceives as truth based on the resources and education of the critic. p. 9

Yet whenever we read scripture we interpret. This criticism of higher criticism does nothing more than reject it because one disagrees with the results. There are problems with higher criticism, just as there are problems with reading everything literally. These are problems that require thoughtful responses. I would reject a version of higher criticism that stands on purely naturalistic assumptions. But such a foundation is unnecessary to find value in many of the tools provided.

While the Bible is paramount in our estimation as the ultimate authority and final arbiter of truth, the Spirit of Prophecy provides clear, inspired council to aid our application of Bible truth. It is a heaven-sent guide to instruct the church in how to carry out its mission. It is a reliable theological expositor of the Scriptures. p. 9

I would simply point out that this issue stands out as one of the milestones on my own departure from the SDA church. If you treat Ellen White as a definitive interpreter of scripture, you are placing her above scripture, whether you like it or not. I recognize that Wilson didn’t use the word “definitive,” but I think the intentions are clear. As a Christian, I do not reject the idea of a modern prophet, but I do reject he idea that any person can be the definitive interpreter, denying me the opportunity of full examination, discussion, and disagreement.

So having responded to some key points in the sermon, what does this have to do with my own departure from the SDA church?

I think it highlights it rather well. Let me begin by noting that my key issues with Adventism were not the standards of the seventh day Sabbath, legalism, or the state of the dead, which seem to stir people up so much. Let me be clear: I disagree with SDA positions on the Sabbath and somewhat on the state of the dead. They just are the critical issues for me.

The state of the dead doctrine is trivial in my view. I really don’t care how much time elapses between death and going to be with Jesus–eternally. There is no time lapse which will matter, in my view. I think there are some scriptural arguments on both sides, but I don’t care that much about the answer.

I envy Seventh-day Adventists the doctrine of the Sabbath, even though I don’t accept it. What it did for many SDAs of my acquaintance–and still does–is give them a much stronger sense of sacred time than I find in other churches. Time stewardship in Christianity is in poor shape, and this is something the broader community could learn from SDAs.

But at the same time we see legalism. Those in the SDA church who worship on Saturday for legalistic reasons also often miss the valuable blessings it can have. I don’t think such legalists are in the majority; my experience was of many Adventists truly refreshed by the Sabbath rest.

The critical element for me was eschatology. I find the SDA approach to Daniel and Revelation almost completely wrong. The interpretation of Daniel 8:14 is completely unjustified by the text. The doctrine of the investigative judgment also runs contrary to any number of other orthodox Christian doctrines. But I’ve written about that before.

Even that disagreement is not necessarily a deal breaker. I know any number of United Methodists who believe things about eschatology that I find profoundly troubling, yet I can be a Methodist.

The problem comes in the doctrine of the remnant. Again, I must specify that I do see a doctrine of the remnant in scripture, but it’s specifically the identification of the remnant with an organization that I would call the critical deal breaker.

When SDAs ask me why I left the church they often respond to my early, brief remarks by noting that the United Methodist Church also has problems. Their assumption seems to be that I left the SDA church because it was imperfect and have found the church in the UMC. But that isn’t the case.

The SDA church is imperfect. So is the UMC. But nobody (that I know of) in the UMC expects me to equate my membership in that organization with my Christianity or my salvation. It doesn’t make me part of a special remnant. That membership means that I choose to find fellowship in my UMC congregation, to find accountability there, and to serve as part of the body of Christ there, i.e. to find my place of ministry there.

When I said I would uphold the UMC with my prayers, presence, gifts, and service, I did not also affirm that I would regard the UMC as better than all other churches, much less as the one organization representing what Christianity ought to be.

I believe that my disagreement with the SDA church on a number of doctrinal issues means that I do better not to be a member. But combining those doctrines into a core set of beliefs defining the one true organization out there is the most critical element.

Love, appreciate, enjoy, yes. Join, no.