Reflections and Clarifications After Many Discussions

I Asked for It–I Got It!
Thanks to so many of you who have chosen to interact with me on what I shared in the teaching on January 10.  You responded by text message, turned-in notes at the end of worship, blog posts, e-mails, phone calls and face-to-face conversations.  It has become clear to me that, thankfully, what I shared was something that you couldn’t walk away from indifferently.  It’s not good when people leave worship without being inspired, comforted or challenged.  There were a number of people who told me they were very encouraged by what I shared and there were a number of people who told me they were very frustrated with what I shared.  After hearing from all who shared, I feel it would be helpful to provide a couple clarifications to what I presented.  I’ll do it in a question-and-answer format.

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…

8 thoughts on “Reflections and Clarifications After Many Discussions

  1. Harold Concepcion, via e-mail:Todd, (Church), it’s refreshing to see what is happening in our church. One of the things that you see in the Bible are individuals constantly questioning what is going on with the “Establishment” of the time. Jesus was constantly making his team think about the bigger picture and often had difficulty with this, to his disciples. I believe that the only way the church will grow is by bringing a fresh light on the truth. We need to ask ourselves how do we continue to make our church grow, and part of that way is to change with the times. We need a church that is vibrant with life and has a great love for GOD and if we need to change the way we do things, then so be it. Church should be an inviting place to go and enjoy both the time with GOD and with each other as a family. I have been a long time Adventist and personally find this refreshing because it forces me to think about what is being said and makes me go back to the Bible to see if what is being presented is the word of God. I don\’t believe (personally) that you\’re doing anything to drive us away from Adventism, your making us think and this is a good thing. If you were teaching that Jesus is not equal to God then I would have a problem. We are also told to question if someone who claims to be a prophet of God is one, and we need to question that fact and validate it. I believe that EGW has a place in our church and whether she is a true prophet or not, I will ask God or her when I see either of them in heaven but for now, I believe that she was a remarkable individual who was guided by God to provide the church with direction in its infancy. I believe she was inspired by God but I do NOT believe that she should be elevated to the status of inerrancy and her books should be next to the Cannon (Bible). I personally would like to see references to her writings because I do enjoy her books and find them interesting, but there is only one Bible and we use that as the guide to test everything. As I said before, I have been along time Adventist and I believe this church (SDA’s) to have a special calling among the different churches within the U.S. Our message is unique, whether you’re talking about our health message, our message on the Sanctuary, the Sabbath or what God is doing in Heaven for us now. We are special and we need a new way of communicating this to the world that is changing because tradition for the sake of tradition is of no value. It’s mundane and old. To me it would be like reading the KJV version ONLY and never picking up any other translation. I learn so much from reading different versions and I grow by that act.

  2. Elvis Santana from NYC, via e-mail:Thanks for sharing. As you know, this rings particularly true with me because this is EXACTLY why I lost interest in the Adventist church. I couldn\’t question the way things were. I would only receive text-book answers. Many questions I wouldn\’t dare ask because my good standing with God would come into question. I would even feel a treasonous guilt against my God for formulating these questions. It\’s almost like brain-washing. By doing some research, I came across facts that the Adventist church does not share with its congregations. Facts about EGW and the early history of the church that for some reason is excluded when we learn church history. This threw a wrench in my spiritual life. Where was my faith supposed to be? What beliefs was I supposed to hold on to? I grew up thinking I was a priviledged person privy to the truth and only true faith. But now everything I ever thought I knew became suspect and questionable. I felt alone in my spiritual journey. My reasons for leaving the church were spiritual and with God\’s direction I went back to square one: FAITH. The freedom to open my mind and truly search for God\’s truth has been very liberating. I feel a closer relationship to God than ever before. I do not believe that any church possesses the perfect faith but I no longer need to. I listen to uplifting music, attend uplifting non-denominational churches, pray and read books. I cling to everything that reinforce my faith and trust that God will point me in the right direction in this life. I think many Adventist youth leave because they are inadvertantly tought to trust the church\’s structure for spiritual practice and its outline for daily living – all things that mean well. But soon after they realize the imperfections in the "system", the faults and character flaws of the people running the show and their inability to ask quations, they feel lost and they end up lost. They lose respect for the church and they leave. The church is what kept us in the faith, rather than our faith keeping us in the church.

  3. I have a long history of not liking conflict. I like things to be peaceful and happy and would like nothing better than for the whole world to "join hands" and "start a love train" (Reference to "Love Train" by The O\’Jays).But I\’ve learned that without conflict, there is no growth…there is stagnation and eventually death. And I have learned to embrace the inner conflict I have with spiritual issues and have started questioning things instead of just accepting what I\’ve been taught. I\’m forming my own opinions and beliefs. This process started a few years ago and culminated in deciding that I would leave the Adventist Church as soon as I could find a church that better resonated with me. My sister (who happens to be Lutheran) encouraged me to give the Adventist church another chance. I did, and was pleasantly surprised by Canton Adventist. And I continue to be blessed and surprised by the wonderful things I\’m witnessing happening in my church.Todd, taking a stand for gen-xers and gen-yers takes guts. Our generations have been gagging on tradition, and have been poisoned against the church by "Christians" whose behavior can be classified as "self-righteous," "judgmental," and "hypocritical." But many of us (including me) who have stuck with the SDA church feel this conflict but don\’t have the guts (or eloquence, or tact) to do anything about it. It\’s uncomfortable to take a stand on positions that we\’ve learned since infancy to be untouchable. It\’s easier to just leave. Or let people judge us and brush them off as "uninformed." But I agree that we need to forge a better, stronger, and more supportive community through the fire of this conflict of generations. As much as I want to be accepted, I know the judging can go both ways. So, I pledge to do my best to be warm and accepting of "conservatives" that may find themselves at Canton. And by the way, "liberals" prefer the term "progressive." 🙂

  4. Thanks Todd for this post. Not many Pastors have the guts to stand up and say the truth. The Adventist church in my country is very conservative and legalistic (some say it’s the same here in the US). Looking back I get very angry and emotional because I lost of a lot of my childhood years. I couldn’t understand why I had to live life so restrained, so controlled, like following some sort of moral code or else I will burn in hell. I couldn’t question why because I was “too young” and only the privilege elders and church leaders knew the “truth”. They followed EGW’s principles word by word (condemning almost every activity).A lot of my friends don’t attend the Adventist church anymore. They simply got tired of being controlled and judged. They got tired of having a faith based on fear.Not all was negative. The Adventist in my country takes health very seriously. That’s a good thing. I learned a lot about taking care of myself and eating right.Conservative vs. progressive? After giving this idea much thought, I think we can learn good things from both sides.

  5. Ed is correct below in that we can learn much from each other. I also grew up in a very conservative home and I learned alot for the appreciation of what an SDA is – the Sabbath rest, the Health message and the insightful writings of Ellen White. I enjoy all aspects of Adventism.

  6. It\’s Sabbath evening of the 23rd and though I am not a member of the Canton Adventist church, but I have visited, I wanted to read what was on your site. I have to admit I was concerned with what Pastor Todd had said the sabbath before because of past experiences with other adventist. I do agree that it took much courage for Pastor Todd to speak from his heart what he truly feels and believes and some people would have a hard time accepting that. But I also feel that what Pastor Wayne spoke on this past sabbath was well intended to educate and not be judge mental or condemning to anyone. You don\’t know me nor I you and we all come from various backgrounds where adventism is concerned. Many of you have been raised in the adventist church, gone to their schools and so on. I have not. I was not even raised in a christian home. I was married, had 2 very young children at the time when I became an adventist. It was very hard to be an adventist, the expectations were overwhelming. People in the church used EGW above the Bible for the wrong reasons, mainly I believe to make you conform to their way of thinking and living. I never really knew who God was while in the church, I never really saw his love in the people. All I really saw was condemnation, fear and no hope. It\’s like you had a set of rules you had to follow and check off in order to be saved. Very works minded. It was hard for me when I would read the bible and see the love of God and how Jesus wanted us to follow after him and his example and then to see how the church would use EGW writings to totally change that meaning. I resented EGW and what I thought she stood for. It wasn\’t till I left the church the 1st time that I really found God and in studying his word the holy spirit impressed me to really read Ellen\’s writings the way they should be read (which is line upon line, not quotes taken here or there and then put together) that I began to see why God used her to bring this message to the people. I do agree with Pastor Todd that a lot of her writings were written for her time because of what was going on then, but I also agree with Pastor Wayne in what he said to Sarah in his emails to her. I look at the church which is main body, the church plants, the off shoot grps and so on and see people who are trying to figure out what it is to be an adventist and who\’s right and who\’s wrong. When really we should be christians-being Christ minded. I left the church again a year in a half ago and I was in a church plant—again it was about people. I love the adventist message and I love Ellen\’s writings and I have learned to use them I believe, the way God intended us to use them. She is the lesser light up holding the greater light which is God\’s wholly word. When Jesus came he came to show us who the Father was and how to live an abuntant life. But because of the mindset of the people they were unwilling to see the truth, they were caught up in who\’s right who\’s wrong and couldn\’t move forward. The disciples were the same way, they were a mess. It wasn\’t until they were willing to really look not only at themselves but also willing to accept one another forgive and love one another that they were filled with the Holy Spirit able to do God\’s work. God will have a people. A people who will love Him, who will want to be obedient to his word, who will want to live by His standards. And the only way that will happen is when we really start studying His word, meditating on His word, filling our minds with His word and being willing to live His word. You may thing that I believe I know it all but I don\’t. I\’ve just come to a place in my life where I have surrendered to God and through His great mercies He has been showing me in His word in Ellen\’s writings and other authors that if we are truly to be christians we must have the mind of Christ. WE MUST KNOW WHO WE ARE IN CHRIST!!! Being Adventist is not who we are, it is what we believe in-it is doctrinal. When we know who we are in Christ then we can be Adventist. The disciples knew who they were in Christ that\’ why people were drawn to them. I believe that\’s what people want to see in us is Christ. And when that happens we will be filled even more with the Holy Spirit and this truth that we all have been drawn into will have a much deeper meaning to us and those we come in contact with. God is waiting for His people to wake up! Won\’t you please wake up!!!I don\’t know if this is where God wants to place me, because I\’m looking for a church home where I can use the talents that God has given me, where I can share the love of God and his word with others. So I ask for your prayers as I continue to rely upon God in this search and as I continue to visit with you that He will make known to all of us that this is the right place for me. And I will continue to prayer for you as you seek His wisdom to know His will for you. Thank you for letting me share this with you. I hope that I have not offended anyone in what I have said. It\’s because I love God that I say these things.

  7. The previous comment was posted by Laurel. There was a snafu with the system where her name appeared at first, but then reverted to "No Name." If this ever happens to you, please let me know and I\’ll make a note like I did here to identify you with your comments. Something similar happened two weeks ago where Harold posted, but it came up as No Name for about a half hour and then his name appeared with it. I hope this name thing doesn\’t become a habitual system problem. Thanks for posting Laurel!

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