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Has Adventism Lived Long Enough to Become the Thing We Swore to Destroy?

This week’s adult Sabbath school lesson was jam packed with Adventist goodies: the mark of the beast, the seal of God, the latter rain, time of trouble, three angel’s messages, and Babylon. It was a lot to cram into a week’s reading. It was like standing in front of a firehose, but it’s every Daniel and Revelation seminar I’ve ever attended.

A few ideas rose to the surface as I read, including a feeling of sadness. Maybe that had to do with my own experience as a female pastor within the Adventist church. Or perhaps it was due to the many board meetings I’ve sat in, hearing church officials remain silent when their voice of advocacy was needed. Or, maybe it had to do with the subcommittees creating policies to protect the agenda of the power player within the institution rather than propelling the mission of God’s love. 

As I read the Monday and Tuesday lessons on the mark of the beast and worship, I remembered all the false worship taking place within Adventist circles. And how many high-ranking officials play at church politics to keep their voted seats. I remembered someone once told me that plugging in a guitar was basically plugging into the soul of Satan. I recalled all the backroom comments and jokes, usually at the expense of others lower in power. But, the topic of true worship takes precedence as we sit in religious idolatry.

During Wednesday’s reading on the early and latter rain, I was reminded of the featured verse, Joel 2: 21-24, specifying how women will preach in the latter days. Yet, how the world church refuses to recognize the signs of God’s spirit  as they vote against women ministers. If they continue to allow headship theology take precedence instead of letting Christ be the head of the church, we will continue to see numbers dwindle as Jesus-followers are forced to leave church to follow Jesus and their calling. 

Thursday’s reading showed how God gave us the authority to go out and make disciples of all nations. I think about how some in church authority snuff out so many little lights, holding board meetings to give permission for any movement to take place. Many times, further stalling happens when gospel initiatives are tabled for a later date. As a result, many people’s talents get squashed, defunded, or watered down. Church leaders wonder why so many young people leave, not realizing that they feel like they can follow Jesus more freely outside church walls.

The lesson states, “Jesus gives His disciples authority over the principalities and powers of hell. He sends them out with divine power to be victorious in the battle between good and evil.” Ironically, in Jesus’ time and our own, those principalities and powers are found in religious institutions. An institution has more to protect, meaning growth often gets stifled as the movement stops to protect the brand. They don’t realize it was the movement itself that created the power of the brand.

I felt both sadness and hope as I read a line from Thursday’s lesson: “At the end time, the Holy Spirit will be poured out in unprecedented power, and the gospel will be spread rapidly to the ends of the earth.” Sadness as I looked back on my experience in the church when those in positions of authority tell others how they can and can’t use their talents. But I also felt hope as I see the tenacity of those who refuse to let others set boundaries around their spiritual gifts. Sometimes this means they will leave the church they love to follow Jesus and live out His command to make disciples of all nations.

Wouldn’t it be ironic if all the warnings Adventists give others, is actually a warning to be aware of themselves? What if the warning about worshiping the beast includes the ego; and talks about last-day persecution included persecution from within the church? Maybe all this struggle for power within Adventism is a practice in idolatry as we take Christ off the throne. Perhaps in all our hypervigilant rebuke against others, we forget to notice the massive plank in our own eye.

About the author

Krystalynn Westbrook-Martin is the former vice principal for spiritual life at Auburn Adventist Academy. She has served as a minister, teacher, and administrator in the Seventh-day Adventist Church for over two decades. She is currently completing a PhD in Transformative Social Change, with an emphasis in Peace and Justice Studies. More from Krystalynn Westbrook-Martin.
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