The Challenge of Secularization for Seventh-day Adventists

MANY people think of secularization in its negative sense. For instance, a secularized world as a world that is not interested in God, a secularized church as one that has lost its identity as a dwelling place for God, or a secularized idea as a concept (such as Marxism) that has been completely separated from its religious origin. . .

-Bible teacher at Shenandoah Valley Academy, New Market, Virginia, at the time this article was written.

MANY people think of secularization in its negative sense. For instance, a secularized world as a world that is not interested in God, a secularized church as one that has lost its identity as a dwelling place for God, or a secularized idea as a concept (such as Marxism) that has been completely separated from its religious origin. 1

However, in recent years a number of continental theologians, including Dr. F. Gogarten, have introduced a positive concept of secularization that is of special interest to Seventh-day Adventists. They insist that "scientific knowledge is a fruit of freedom which is given to men in the gospel." 2 Today nature is not regarded with superstitious awe. The Christian as a free man can see the handiwork of God in nature. True science has helped him in this area. Thus, secularism is a denial of God, but secularization is the assertion of a freedom that God has given man in the world. Stephen Neill prefers to call the latter "desacralization."

Dr. Arend Theodoor van Leeuwen carries this theme through his book Christianity in World History. He frequently refers to the governments of ancient civilizations of both old and new worlds as "ontocratic states." The kings were considered as gods or as sons of the gods. The masses were ruled with an iron hand by a god-king who controlled a superstitious people in the name of cosmic powers. Under these circumstances, the Bible is considered a secular Book, whose purpose is to free the people from the ontocratic state and give freedom under the kingship of the Lord. In this way old fears and superstitions disappear. The Bible consistently emphasizes practical religion in contrast to senseless ceremonies and high places dedicated to cosmic powers.

The Myth of Cosmic Power and Beyond

Van Leeuwen traces the struggle through the centuries of the Christian Era. The Roman emperors, the popes, and the European kings continued the myth of a cosmic throne. In the West there were a series of revolutions the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, and so on which have tended to break the control of the god-kings and their cosmic superstitions. Modern youth find a new freedom from ancient superstitions. They are at the crossroads. Will they take the broad road of libertinism, Marxism, or some other philosophy of God forgetfulness? Or will they take the narrow way upward, which leads to life and freedom in Christ?

Dr. Lesslie Newbigin, Bishop of Madras of the Church of South India, tells of the effect of the teachings of mission schools in the Third World. "Their teaching and practice has the effects of dis integrating the sacral bonds that have traditionally held society together," and as a result the younger generation is "bound to call the old religious order into question." 3 This is a process of secularization in the positive sense of the word. Modern youth is scrutinizing all the traditional beliefs. Because man is innately religious he searches for a reasonable faith when old traditions are swept away. Few people will willingly and deliberately choose an atheistic way of life, yet many find traditional beliefs such as innate immortality and an ever-burning hell quite unacceptable. But human nature hates a vacuum, so the individual moves on. Will he find freedom in Christ? This is where Adventists have an opportunity.

A New Freedom in Christ

At the conference on the Christian World Mission held by the World Council of Churches in Mexico City in December, 1963, study was made of the negative and positive aspects of secularization.4 It was recognized that ancient sacral structures that have controlled men's minds have been broken down and great new powers for controlling the world have been placed in the hands of modern man. Now he must choose between greater freedom or new enslavement, declared the delegates to the conference.

A Christian must recognize in all these changes the hand of God at work. In countries where the political system has secularized the masses to the point where be lief in God is no longer valid, we have and will continue to have opportunities to step in and fill the vacuum with a full presentation of the gospel. It is our privilege as Christians (and especially as Adventists) to call men everywhere into a new freedom that accepts Christ as Lord. By the process of secularization, asserts Newbigin, men have been pried loose from the control of traditional beliefs and are compelled to make new decisions.5

The Christian has no desire to re-establish the absolutes that have been dethroned by the process of secularization, the bishop continues farther on in his book.6 But it is impossible to live without guidance from accepted patterns of conduct. There is one absolute in Christ and the Christian's love to God and his neighbor. We must have an anchor for the soul.

The Adventist Answers

From their origin Adventists have been considered rebels against the establishment, or the mainstream religious organizations. Bryan Wilson calls Adventists "revolutionary sects." 7 Such doctrines as conditional immortality, the second coming of Christ, the cataclysmic end of the world, the Sabbath, vegetarianism, and the like cut right across the traditional beliefs of all the mainstream churches. We can enter into the revolutionary spirit of the age and present new and Biblical answers to old problems. Revolution is needed, but let it be of the right kind, one that will lead us back to the Bible and sane temperate living.

We as Adventists can heartily agree with the concept of the church as a missionary community. We respond to the invitation of Christ, "Come unto Me," and also accept the call, "Go and I am with you." 8 It is our privilege and responsibility to represent our God before our fellow men. We are a pilgrim people and should ever be first to lift up Christ to the world. We invite people every where to find new liberty in Him. We have deep social concern as revealed in our medical, educational, welfare, and temperance work. But we know very well that social problems will never be completely solved until Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, comes to reign over a redeemed remnant of earth.


FOOTNOTES

1. Stephen Neill, et. al., Concise Dictionary of the Christian World Mission, p. 564.
2. Ibid.
3. Lesslie Newbigin, Honest Religion for Secular Man, p. 18.
4. Ibid., p. 136.
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid., p. 140.
7. Bryan Wilson, Religion in Secular Society, pp. 224, 225.
8. Newbigin, op. cit., pp. 104, 101.


Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.

comments powered by Disqus
-Bible teacher at Shenandoah Valley Academy, New Market, Virginia, at the time this article was written.

March 1973

Download PDF
Ministry Cover

More Articles In This Issue

The Spirit in the Wheels

EZEKIEL saw a fiery cloud, living creatures, wheels, and wheels within wheels. It was all "so complicated that at first sight they appeared . . . to be all in confusion." But then the prophet observed a wonderful harmony, for "when they moved, it was with beautiful exactness and in perfect harmony." --Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 751.

Lift Up Your Eyes

JESUS was standing beside Jacob's well in Samaria. From His vantage point the Saviour could look out over the fields of waving grain about Him. As the golden sunlight touched the tender green stalks Jesus knew that it was but a few weeks until harvest-time. . .

Using Illustrations in Preaching

THE great British preacher Charles H. Spurgeon once referred to America's Henry Ward Beecher as the Shakespeare of the nineteenth-century pulpit.1 Doubtless the encomium was in recognition not merely of the rich variety of his gifts, but particularly of a Shakespearean faculty of perceiving all aspects of human life and character, and of presenting these in vivid images to the minds of people. It is generally admitted that no preacher before or since has used the illustration so successfully. . .

Pastoral Care and the Sick

OUR day is a transitional period in Christian pastoral care, characterized by confusion as to the nature, purpose, and function of the pastor. . .

Planning For Guest Speakers

DOES the pastor have a responsibility to the guest speaker as well as to his congregation when planning for a guest speaker? Does the guest speaker have a responsibility to the congregation to treat it as a unique group even though his standard preaching procedures have fared well elsewhere?

Seventh-day Adventist Apologetics

The following message was delivered to students attending the Andrews University Extension School at Newbold College in England, July 15 to August 17, 1972.

Today's Religious Music Scene (Conclusion)

TRULY there is something about a perfect marriage between a text and its musical setting that raises the power of the words to a completely new level. . .

The End of an Era in Biblical Archeology

THE purpose of this essay is to provide the busy pastor and evangelist with a brief introduction to the most significant scholarly books produced in 1971 that have a bearing on our understanding of the Old Testament, with particular reference to archeology, geography, and history. In harmony with the objectives of this feature of The Ministry, its compass does not include books on Old Testament language, exegesis, and theology. Depending on a minister's individual interest, those works marked with an asterisk (*) are suitable additions to his general library. Other volumes are either more technical or more restricted in their scope and therefore of greater value to the specialist, though the minister should be aware of their availability.

Preaching on Bible Biographies

ELLEN G. WHITE declares, "As an educator no part of the Bible is of greater value than are its biographies." --Conflict and Courage, p. 10.

Plymouth England: Land of Hope and Glory

ENGLISHMEN who hove never before heard of Seventh-day Adventists will join the church four weeks after attending their first evangelistic sermon. . .

Can Diet Create Alcoholics?

ALTHOUGH it may seem strange in our enlightened age, there are still areas in the world where beriberi is common. It has been known for some time that this disease is due to a diet which is deficient in thiamine (vitamin B1). . .

The Call to Complete Ministry

FOURTEEN verses of the Old Testament are pointed to in the Spirit of Prophecy writings as being especially pertinent to Adventist spiritual living and last-day witness. These are found in Isaiah 58 and among the numerous references to these in the Ellen G. White writings we will refer to three. . .

Losing With Leo

IF YOU think that the basic cause of overweight is some psychological problem such as over eating as a way of compensating for feelings of inferiority or a form of repressed hostility, you may be only half right. . .

Are You Fit For the Ministry? (Conlcusion)

THERE are at least three parts to any exercise routine properly performed: (1) the warm-up, (2) the actual endurance training, (3) cooling down. We would remind you again that before embarking upon an exercise program you should get your physician's approval. . .

Incarnation and the Latter Rain

THE latter rain will never fall upon the church except as members are prepared to receive it. Reception of the Spirit at any level of experience always represents relationships based upon personal decisions. Many talk "about the Holy Spirit, yet receive no benefit. . .

View All Issue Contents

Digital delivery

If you're a print subscriber, we'll complement your print copy of Ministry with an electronic version.

Sign up
Advertisement - Southern Adv Univ 180x150 - Animated

Trending

Recent issues

See All
Advertisement - Healthy and Happy Family - Skyscraper 160x600