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Clearing a Way of Love Through the Rhetoric of War

Is the Seventh-day Adventist church entrenched in a civil war?  Some describe the increasing polarization in the church along these lines.  However, to portray the very real differences in Adventist perspective as engaged in a power struggle to define and control belief is to completely misunderstand and therefore misrepresent the Kingdom of God.  Power plays, political maneuvering, intolerance, and exclusion of others are anathema to the way of Jesus Christ. 

The power displayed by Jesus was not the violent force of Rome which imposed temporary peace and uniformity through overwhelming might, superior numbers, and political maneuvering.  Rather, Jesus demonstrated the deeper power of love which draws out lasting peace and unity amidst diversity through changed hearts, strength in weakness, and mutual understanding.  The difference is illustrated in the self-assured, top-down uniformity at the tower of Babel as compared to the humble, Spirit-led unity amidst diversity at Pentecost.

The widening gap between traditional and progressive perspectives in Adventism cannot be ignored; but, neither must it devolve into a power struggle.  Indeed, perhaps understanding the factors involved in this increasing religious polarization will help us to respond with compassion toward those with whom we disagree. 

Our own progressive Adventist movement is a small part of a much larger shift occurring throughout Christianity.  Phyllis Tickle calls this shift the Great Emergence.  Blame it on science, postmodernity, ecumenicism, technology, or whatever current phenomenon you prefer to vilify; but, due to these and many other related factors, Christianity is changing. 

The fact that change and growth is a constant of Christianity is not news to any student of church history.  However, this present renewal through which we have the privilege of living may turn out to be no less momentous than the most recent seismic semi-millenial shift in Christian experience, the Great Reformation. 

Due to our eschatological blinders, Adventists are inclined to accept a facile demonization of those with whom we disagree and exhibit a blindness to the religious trends beyond our denominational borders.  Adventism is never-the-less impacted by the Great Emergence.  Questions of women’s ordination, biological evolution, and inclusion of homosexuals, all find their core in the deeper question of biblical interpretation which is really asking the ultimate question of post-modern, post-foundational, post-sola scriptura Christianity, “Where now is our authority?” 

What if we arrive at very different answers to this fundamental question?  Is it possible for diverse opinions on authority to co-exist in interdependent unity?  Or, is a split within Adventism, as among other Christian denominations, inevitable as the fragmentation of Christianity at the Great Reformation?  Where can we even find a place to discuss these questions?

I believe the goal of Spectrum/Adventist Forum is to re-open a way along the besieged bridge of present truth between the past and the future so that those who are engaging the troubling questions of our age may find a hospitable community in which to safely continue the journey and remain engaged in the next stage of faith.  Thus, Spectrum/AF serves to open space for the exploration of new ideas, allowing individuals to decide together what seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us.

This is not tearing down the church.  It does not even indicate that Spectrum/AF is pushing change on the church.  Change is the reality whether we have the honesty to recognize it and whether we have the courage to engage it or not.

What this will mean for the individuals who join our conversation through community and what a new kind of Seventh-day Adventism will become can only be answered through active involvement.  This is both exhilarating and humbling.  Like our early Adventist pioneers, we have the privilege of continuing to discover the Holy Spirit’s revelation of present truth for our time.  The incarnational nature of this process means that through humble cooperation with God, you and I may actually help to shape the future of faith. 

When Jesus left us as his multi-faceted body on earth, He promised to send the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth.  So, where then is our authority?  Perhaps, through questioning the ultimate authority of other human beings, institutions, and in some ways even the Bible, we are coming back to a clearer understanding and more perfect witness of God’s authority which is lived and breathed through diverse Spirit-filled communities.

Adventism is at a decisive turning point.  Will we overcorrect toward the right and anchor our individualized claims on traditional Adventist belief or will we overcorrect toward the left and dilute our prophetic remnant voice?  Will we attempt to force our beliefs on others or will we water down our beliefs to the point of irrelevance?  Or, can we find a third way, beyond hackneyed dichotomies, to honor the Spirit of our Adventist pioneers by holding firm to our distinctive beliefs of Sabbath as a spiritual practice, the holistic nature of humanity, and our hope of the soon-coming, fully-realized Kingdom of God, all while maintaining the humility to respectfully dialogue with and learn from others? 

During the Great Reformation the opposing followers of Christ literally killed one another.  Limiting ourselves to violent language at the beginning of our own Great Emergence may be progress; but, we still have so far to go.  Imagine progressive and traditional Adventists laying down the fundamentalist rhetoric of war and embarking together in love with those from every nation, tribe, people, and religion over the abyss of uncertainty into the future to which God draws us.  Now, more than ever, organizations like Spectrum/AF are needed to clear a safe passage for questioning youth and stumbling senior Adventists of all perspectives to find community for the journey and encouragement to navigate an uncharted new world in the radical way of Jesus Christ.

—Brenton Reading lives with his wife Nola and their three children in the Kansas City area where he practices pediatric interventional radiology. 

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