Jerald Whitehouse, who served for thirty years in primarily Muslim countries such as Libya, Lebanon, Sudan, and Bangladesh, and for fifteen years as Director of the Global Center for Adventist-Muslim Relations, returned to the Roy Branson Legacy Sabbath School (RBLSS) in Loma Linda, California on September 16 to explore once again two concepts which he had introduced six weeks earlier. These were “Invisible Remnant” and “Hermeneutical Community.”
He had presented these ideas in his commentary on Chapter 7 in Where Are We Headed? Adventism After San Antonio by longtime editor of the Adventist Review William G. Johnsson. The title of this chapter is “Mission: Beyond Counting Heads.”
Whitehouse began by reading a brief paper. Appealing to his own experiences, as well as to the methods and successes of the earliest Christians, he concluded that the Gospel “can move into any culture, religious tradition, or political environment and transform people within their contexts by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Although it is true and important, this conclusion would not be controversial were it not for three words. These are “within their contexts.”
These three words mean that individuals or groups may become authentic disciples of Jesus without leaving their original communities of faith and culture. He explicitly states that a Muslim can become a genuine follower of Jesus without ceasing to be a Muslim and without openly identifying with any form of Christianity. By the same reasoning, it would seem that Buddhists can become Christians and remain Buddhists and that Taoists, Zoroastrianism, and the members of any other community of faith can do the same thing.
We must qualify this in at least two ways. The first is that Whitehouse thinks it best when talking with Muslims not to speak about “Christianity” because many of them think of it as “Christendom” and experience it as triumphal, colonial, imperialistic, plus culturally and morally decadent. The second is that, as one of the three Abrahamic religions, Islam is closer to Judaism and Christianity than it is to other religions.
Many Adventists think of themselves as belonging to the “visible remnant” or just plain “remnant.” They respond differently to the suggestion that there might also be an “invisible remnant” which is comprised of all those in other communities of faith, or no faith at all, who make every effort to know the truth and follow it wherever it leads.
Some swiftly accept this idea because it closely related to what they call the “universal church.” Others find it objectionable because it does not necessarily call people to “come out of Babylon” or anything else. It leaves them where they are, albeit transformed in positive ways by the Gospel.
Being a Christian or Adventist Muslim is not good enough for them. They believe that one must stop being a Muslim. They take this to be a matter of “either/or” whereas Whitehouse is more inclined to think in terms of “both/and.”
Whitehouse describes the “Hermeneutical Community” as a “community of learning” or “learning community.” The whole church, and not merely its theological experts, should determine what its theology will be. They should appeal to Scripture, rely on the Holy Spirit, and consult with each other. The Holy Spirit will enable people in the “visible remnant” and “invisible remnant” to learn from each.
One person in the discussion enthusiastically commended Whitehouse for his interactions with Muslims over the years. Others gently challenged him. Unfortunately, the camera lingered too long over a person who was benefiting from a Sabbath rest.
WATCH: Jerald Whitehouse on "Exploring 'Invisible Remnant' and ‘Hermeneutical Community'"
Dr. David Larson is Professor of Religion at Loma Linda University.
Image Credit: Video Still
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