Our Worst Fears Exposed
I think more than anything else, what my teaching on January 10 and Wayne’s presentation on January 17 did was expose the fears of two views of Adventism*, which I will identify as:
Orthodox-Traditional Adventism that is committed, for the most part, to the historic, core tenets of the faith
Reforming-Progressive Adventism that identifies itself with the Adventist faith heritage but believes significant revision to its theology is necessary
* (Both of these views are broad generalizations and there are as many variations on them as there are Adventist adherents)
Usually the battle lines are not drawn over theology, but over cultural issues like worship style, modesty of dress and adornment, dietary practices, and Sabbath observance. Both sides are looking for a place where their religious cultural priorities are honored and respected but where it is still what they would define as "Adventist." And often, people of either viewpoint would not even necessarily state that they think any theology needs re-emphasizing or changing. But one side talks about wanting a place of unconditional acceptance and the other talks about the need for a renewed commitment to Christ and Biblical standards. Not that either side is necessarily opposed to the need for the other–it just boils down to a matter of priorities. Each side considers itself more well-rounded than the other in the grace/growth continuum and finds the other side misguided at best or dangerous at worst.
In its almost-four-year existence since its revitalization (a Canton Adventist Church has been in the works since 2001, but its current iteration began in April 2005), Canton Adventist has been a place where those of the reforming-progressive Adventist mindset could find cultural solidarity for the practice of their faith. While the way that I have attempted to share that vision has changed over time, the basic concept that has been overtly and subtly shared is that the orthodox-traditionalists are welcome as long as they are accommodating of the reforming-progressive culture. For me, this has been very important, because I am convinced that this reforming-progressive congregational culture is not prevalent within the Adventist church anywhere, including metro Atlanta and North Georgia. I always knew that there would be a number of Adventists that would visit our church and discover that this environment would not be comfortable for them. We serve coffee, many women wear jewelry, some go out to eat at restaurants on Sabbath, many go to movies at theaters, most dress casually at church and worship does not routinely feature hymns. We don’t promote these things as the way people should live and worship, it’s just accepted that this church will be accommodating of those desires and practices.
But within this reforming-progressive Adventist church culture we are blessed to have individuals and families that fall along various points between the extremes of ultra-traditional and ultra-progressive. Most did not have major problems with either Wayne’s presentation or mine, even if they might have disagreed with a point here or there. A couple had major problems with mine; a couple had major problems with Wayne’s.
I think more than anything else, Wayne and I scared some people with what we said.
I scared a few people into thinking that I might be leading Canton Adventist away from Adventist faith and, on a personal level, that I would not accept them if they did cherish a more orthodox-traditional practicing of the faith
Wayne scared some people into thinking that Canton Adventist might become that orthodox-traditional congregation that they have been fleeing from and felt so judged by
I think these last two Sabbaths brought these fears out of the closet and shined the light on this battle between two viewpoints within the denomination.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have been waging a covert war against orthodox-traditionalism for the last five years through my preaching, teaching and conversations with church members, pastors and church leaders. I’ve wanted to win the battle and transform Adventism. I didn’t expose my “heretical” beliefs to anyone because I was afraid I would be removed from the church I was pastoring or, worse, be fired from the Adventist denomination. So I tried to keep to the “party line” while secretly working to subvert it.
But, like I said on January 10, I’m ready to bury the hatchet. I’m ready to bury it because I believe there is something more important that God is calling me to accomplish than winning the ideological war while at the same time keeping my job. I believe he is calling me to join with you in developing a community of faith where the orthodox-traditional can join hands with the reforming-progressive and together join hands with God-seekers who are not yet, or may never be, part of the Adventist faith community to build and expand God’s kingdom–his righteousness, peace, justice and mercy—in Canton, Cherokee County and beyond. And, for me, it had to start with me being honest with you about who I am and what I believe. I’ll always be a proponent of the reforming-progressive direction, and Canton Adventist will continue to be a reforming-progressive congregation. But now I am equally devoted to being open and accepting of the orthodox-traditional viewpoint being heard within our faith community.
So I ask the question again of myself and also of you (cue the organ music for the altar call): Can I, can you accept the other? Can we handle the ideological disagreements in light of the higher calling to unite together around Christ and unite in making our community happier, healthier and stronger? It is not easy. We know that. We’ve all been through these relational failures before and have the scars to prove it. But will we try again to do the difficult relational work to forge friendships across “party lines?” I believe the power of the gospel will be unleashed in an incredible way if we can break through to this deeper level of community.
And, in closing, I think I should tell you how much I appreciate Wayne and his ministry. I was in high school and college when Wayne was part of the pastoral staff at the Marietta Adventist Church. Along with the influence of grace-oriented teachers in the schools I attended, I was extremely blessed to experience Wayne’s ministry when I needed to hear about the love of Jesus and that He accepted me as I was. Wayne had a huge role in promoting that culture of love and acceptance during his years as pastor in Marietta. And, so you can understand how thrilled I was when he and Bev decided to be a part of Canton Adventist. They have been an incredible blessing to all of us. And even though he and I obviously have our disagreements, I want you to know that he has had and always will have my respect. He is my brother for eternity.