Introduction by Bonnie Dwyer / Article by Nancy Vyhmeister
The early 80’s were a rocky time for the Adventist Church in North America. The decade started with the contentious Glacier View meetings on the findings of theologian Des Ford concerning the heavenly sanctuary. One year later, a financial scandal involving union and conference presidents and other church leaders with the investor Dr. Donald Davenport garnered national press attention. In California, there was controversy over the Burbank Church.
In the midst of this crisis atmosphere, Spectrum published an issue with a special section of articles on the Church and Its Future. Editor Roy Branson wrote an editorial celebrating the Adventist Experience. Kent Seltman described Christian brotherhood as the foundation of the church. Jack Provonsha addressed the church as a prophetic minority, and Nancy Vyhmeister called congregations to the task of becoming the family of God.
Volume Twelve, Number One in our archives is worth reading in its entirety to catch a glimpse of the continuing crisis. Reports of the meeting of scholars in Atlanta who drafted the Atlanta Affirmation is also there.
For discussion purposes here on the web site, we will use Nancy Vyhmeister’s call for Adventism to become an extended family and note its significance specifically for a time of crisis.
Becoming the Family of God by Nancy Vyhmeister
Nancy Vyhmeister, a native of Chile, is a graduate of Pacific Union College and Andrews University. She is assistant professor of mission at Andrews.
The church needs to become more and more a living, loving community, working toward common goals. The church needs to become a family; not the nuclear family that predominates in a United States committed to individualism and independence, but what Adventism has already become in some other parts of the world – an extended family.
Seventh-day Adventists have, perhaps, a better chance than others to be such a family. There is, after all, the gift of the Sabbath, and its special twenty-four hours. When Adventists in the United States refer to the Sabbath as “family time,” they mean a period when father and mother can spend a few hours with their children. In many other countries, the Sabbath is a time for the nuclear family to spend a full day with God’s larger family, sharing in worship, service, and fellowship. In South America going to church is like joining a family reunion. Members come for Sabbath school and church, carry on “missionary work” after lunch, gather for a Missionary Volunteer meeting at sundown, and stay for the Saturday night social.
The Sabbath is a day that members should enjoy so much that it affects their weekday life. (My son once asked why each week could not have six Sabbaths and one work day!) In South America and the Inter-American Division, Sabbath school classes are not once-a-week Bible study groups but social and outreach units active throughout the week. Sunday morning, members often gather to make needed repairs on their church building, and in the afternoon play soccer. Wednesday night, even children attend prayer meeting to see friends and listen to the latest chapter in continuing stories.
Churches that gather more than once a week should have buildings that are more than just sanctuaries. If Adventists were clear that they wished everywhere to be a community of intimately related persons, sharing not only a common set of beliefs and values, but a wide range of activities, Adventist congregations would make certain that they housed themselves in multipurpose buildings. They would direct architects to design a structure that within minutes could be changed from a place for reverent worship to a large hall, or a dining room, or a series of classrooms, or even a gymnasium. A church that is a family needs a home, but a home that can be lived in all week, not just on Sabbath morning.
In addition to the experience of the Sabbath, the commitment of Adventism to the priesthood of all believers helps sustain within Adventists the feeling that they are a family. In Latin America, lay members often not only teach the Sabbath school classes, but preach the church sermon and pastor each other during the crises of sickness and death that come to any extended family. The young people are eager and able to develop their talents by entertaining themselves, including producing and performing plays on Saturday nights.
Members also accept responsibility for fostering intellectual fellowship. The church becomes the center of the lives of many because it is the community within which they develop their God-given mental faculties. Classes are conducted not only for other members, but for non-Adventist friends. Typically, these classes discuss parenting, nature, health, even Seventh-day Adventist history. Interaction in these classes is one way the church opens its doors to the larger community.
Of course, a buoyant community discovers that there are many ways it attracts others anxious to be warmed by its fellowship. Friends and relatives want to be a part of a church family that welcomes others to share in its love throughout the community.
Adventist teenagers in Brazil have given roses to sick ladies on Mother’s Day and visited cemeteries on All Saints’ Day to comfort relatives visiting their loved ones’ graves. Brazilian university students and professionals have given three or four weeks of their vacations to assist in schools, launches, clinics, small hospitals and churches serving their poorer brothers in northern Brazil. Other students and professionals in Chile have been interested in studying and analyzing the Bible in the home of an Adventist professor on the faculty of the University of Conception. Prominent Brazilians gather around the swimming pool of a well-to-do Adventist active in the nation’s capital, Brazilia, to explore the meaning of faith.
Human beings need to belong, to be accepted, to grow within a supportive community. With its members fellowshipping together and cooperating to express their Christianity in their lives, the Seventh-day Adventist church can and should be just such a redemptive and nurturing community. The church’s future shines brightest when it is a caring family, whose delight in fellowship is a foretaste of that community of love and delight that the Scriptures call heaven.