Are your future sermons going to be designed to stir up controversy and/or lead us away from Adventism?
- No. I do not like being controversial for controversy’s sake. And I want Canton Adventist to always remain part of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. I had thought about what I would present on January 10 for two months–something I did not enter into lightly. The reason why I chose to admit to a core disagreement that I have with a traditional viewpoint of Seventh-day Adventist doctrinal beliefs was because I wanted to communicate clearly to everyone that you can be not just an attender of Canton Adventist, but an active ministry partner of the church and have differing views on Adventist beliefs and cultural practices. Someone can say until they’re blue in the face that they are open and accepting of people where they are, but too many of us have been a part of churches where that was stated, but invariably, not practiced. The only way I could think of to show that differing viewpoints are accepted and respected was to take a professional risk of my own and publically admit a difference I had with the church. It truly was a risk for me. You could call the conference at 1-800-567-1844, extension 306, and ask to speak to the Vice-President for Pastoral Ministries, Elder Harold Cunningham, and tell him that your pastor thinks that Ellen White’s influence in the church should be diminished. I could get in trouble. But it was that important to me to be vulnerable with you, so that you can be vulnerable with me and each other about where you are in your journey with Jesus
- The Seventh-day Adventist Church is dying. The median age of the church is 62. It will go up another year or two in 2010. Why? Because youth and young adults are leaving the church in droves. In some earlier research that was done, entitled, ValueGenesis, youth and young adults who were no longer in the church were asked some of the reasons why they left. One of the key answers that surfaced was that they were not allowed to ask questions and expected to toe the party line on beliefs. They said that the church communicated in verbal and non-verbal ways that thinking and questioning of beliefs were unacceptable and their parents, teachers and pastors took their questionings to be evidence that the devil was leading them astray. Therefore, church doctrine was shoved down their throat all the more. And of course too much of that and people gag. Adventist young adults are gagging and leaving the church. The generation that was the subject of the Valuegenesis research was my generation. It was my friends, many who have no interaction with the Adventist church anymore. Latest stats from Andrews University (an Adventist insititution) show that somewhere between 50-75% of my generation, the genX-buster generation, is leaving the church and so is the following generation, the gen-y’s (something new I just found out this week is that young adults are even starting to leave the church in places like Africa and South America where Adventism is still growing–which means sooner or later the church in the third-world will begin the death spiral, too). Changing worship styles isn’t bringing many of my generation back; new buildings, new logos, modern translations of Desire of Ages and Steps to Christ, are not bringing them back. My core conviction is that if the Adventist church wants to have any hope of staving off organizational death, let alone, start growing again in the western world, and while it is not the complete answer, I believe developing a church culture that allows questions and allows messiness in belief and behavior among its members is crucial to bringing more Adventist young adults back and being a place they can invite their non-Adventist friends and relatives to join them
- I wish Canton Adventist was growing faster than it was. But one of the things that gives me great hope for our future is that we are made up predominantly of adults at or under 40. Another one of the things that gives me hope is that I am aware of at least eleven households that were not active in another Adventist church before they started attending Canton Adventist. Of course, it’s sad that they weren’t active in church before us, but it means that they were still looking for a place to grow in Jesus, and they have found Canton Adventist to be that place. Another interesting phenomenon is that we have had at least five couples come to our church where one spouse was raised in the Adventist church and one wasn’t and they have been able to both be comfortable at Canton Adventist, where, in some cases, the spouse not raised in Adventism, decided to become an Adventist and join the church as a ministry partner. By the way–just had another "non-Adventist" tell me they’re ready to become a ministry partner. We’ve got a lot of things to improve on, but these figures point to something going right
- Last point under this question: authenticity is an extremely high priority to me. You need to know who I am. I want to know who you are. Someone said that honesty is the best policy. I really want to test that idea out and see if that’s true
So You’ve Got Problems with Ellen White. Why?
- I don’t want to belabor this issue much because it is not that important to me in the larger scheme of things and won’t be a focus of mine in the future. But, since I brought it up and you’re curious, let me give a brief response.
- I don’t have so much of a problem with Ellen G. White’s (EGW’s) writings themselves as to how the Adventist church decided to utilize them for future generations. The denomination had an opportunity to frame her writings as important to the founding and establishment of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and worthwhile for ongoing inspirational reading and moral guidance. But they instead chose to elevate her writings almost to the point of inerrancy and almost to the level of authority as the Bible. While the official position of the church is that not all of her writings should be given equal weight of authority, the practice of leaders and church members was to give obscure letters that she wrote equal weight with her largest books. What has resulted is that every piece of paper that EGW wrote on has, not in policy, but in practice, been "canonized" as inerrant, spirit-inspired writing. In practice, this is problematic, because, 1) there are things that she wrote earlier in her life that she later felt compelled to correct as she grew in her understanding of God and what he was calling people to do at that time and place; and, 2) there were things she wrote that were only applicable to individuals of a certain time and place, not the population at large. Nevertheless, things she wrote in the 1860’s and 70’s are still often quoted today with the same level of authority as things she wrote in the early 1900’s; and instructions that were given to a guy somewhere in Michigan about how to treat a stomach ailment are often treated as just as authoritative as what she wrote for a wider audience in The Great Controversy
- For me personally, there are statements and perspectives of hers in her major works, like The Great Controversy, that I disagree with. There is much that I do agree with and appreciate; but, there are also things I disagree with in light of my understanding of Scripture. That’s just me. What kind of person am I to challenge a prophet? Probably someone not very smart. Nevertheless, I am under conviction on these things and until someone can help me mesh my Scriptural understanding with some of the things she says, I’ll be in disagreement with some of her stuff
- Therefore, while denominational church leaders could come to a consensus on what should be considered more and less authoritative in EGW’s body of work, I believe she and her writings will continue to be more confusing than helpful to people who are seeking to grow in their faith. I would rather do good Scriptural teaching and let that speak for itself. This is my position–it may not be correct, but it is where I am at for the time-being
Can an Adventist Who Is Pretty Traditional in Their Beliefs (like believing in EGW as a prophet) and Practices Be Accepted at Canton Adventist?
- I hope so. To be honest, over the last few years of my pastoral ministry, I have had a sometimes overt and sometimes passive-aggressive agenda for wanting to convince people to come around to my way of thinking. Sometimes I preached a sermon directly; and sometimes I used subtlety or sarcasm to try to undermine something. As I shared on January 10, I have come under conviction that that attitude and behavior is wrong. I am now convicted that a shared belief in Jesus, a shared commitment to community in Christ and a shared mission to be his witnesses in Canton should be my objective with everyone, whether they agree with me on points of doctrine or not. I want you to know that whether you are a (for lack of better terms) a "liberal" or a "conservative," I will work to stick up for your right to continue where your convictions call you to stand. And I would encourage those of a more "liberal" persuasion to join me in accepting the "conservatives;" and the "conservatives" to join me in accepting the "liberals"
- I believe the more we listen to where each other are coming from, we’ll find out that where we might have originally thought that someone was legalistic, that they are actually very devoted to a practice that has brought them great spiritual blessing. Or we might find out that where we might have originally thought someone was not taking their faith very seriously, that in fact they were taking their relationship with Jesus seriously enough to stop participating in a tradition that had become meaningless or miserable and replaced it with something that was now infusing new life and joy into their spiritual journey
- Open, honest, respectful dialogue is so important. If we engage in it, we’ll grow closer and love one another more and the church will grow and thrive. If we don’t and if we choose to gossip about and criticize the people who don’t believe the way we do, we’ll grow apart and the church will flounder
I hope you’ll respond further to the above…