What the church needs most

While the cement of Adventism is doctrine, could it be that we expend more efforts in constructing a theological system than we do in caring for people's needs?

David E. Thomas is pastor of the Amesbury Seventh-day Adventist church, Amesbury, Massachusetts.

It is my belief that precious few individuals within Adventism today know what Christian fellowship really is. Most church members walk toward the kingdom alone. They have rarely had anyone who really cared for them; seldom have they known a fellow believer with whom they could share the joys and sorrows of life; virtually no one listens to their spiritual advances or retreats. It seems to me that the cement holding Adventists together is doctrine. We have come to care more for a theological system than we do for people, either those in our own fellowship, or those outside it.

Now, don't misunderstand. I believe truth is vitally important. There is no merit in error, and it can cause eternal loss. But true doctrine is not the sum of Christianity. I think it is significant that Jesus did not tell His disciples that true doctrine was to be their most noteworthy feature as Christians. The hallmark of the Christian, as I read it, must be love. (1 John 4:7-11; 1 Cor. 13.)

I contend further that it is time we Adventists did something in caring both for each other and also for those outside our faith. James said that true religion was comprised of visiting the fatherless and widows—love in action. We need to find ways of caring for people no matter what their actions, beliefs, or characteristics.

Recently, I have had an experience that reinforced this conviction. I asked the regular prayer meeting group to care for itself. These were seasoned Christians who could get along alone. Then, my wife and I opened our home to a new prayer meeting. An invitation was given in church to any who might like to attend. After two weeks, our front room was filled to capacity, mostly with people on the fringes of the church. We withdrew the invitation; no more people were allowed to participate.

Those that assembled were a varied lot indeed: two young couples, a husband and wife who had not really been involved in church activities, two women who were experiencing trying marital problems, and two rather quiet individuals. Two people, in particular, seemed to have had more than their share of life's burdens. One man had lost a son to fire, and his second son had suffered irreversible brain damage from smoke inhalation. For seven years this father has cared for his son every evening in a nursing home. His greatest desire is to have a specially prepared room where he can care for his son at home. The other person, a woman, had lost one husband to cancer and was in the process of watching her second husband die the same way. In addition, the marriage of her son had gone awry, and her daughter-in-law had come to stay with her.

So, our group was formed. We did not discuss doctrinal topics; we assumed them. Our concern was to help each other, to pray with each other. First of all, we spent time speaking of our joys and sorrows during the past week. Then we spent time praying. After that, we studied a book, one chapter every week. It was a very simple format.

After being together for about fifteen weeks, we stopped the discussion one evening to take note of what was happening to us. Some admitted to having had hard feelings at the beginning to ward others in the group, and that those hard feelings were based on fiction and gossip. Others told how they had never had anyone who cared for them before. Others said they had experienced fellowship with people at work but never before with those of their own church. Still others poured out tearful thanks for support received in time of need.

The story is not yet over; we are still meeting. But we have seen good things happen. When the husband died of cancer, the group, without any pastoral pressure or initiative, sent flowers to the wife. What those flowers meant, coming from a group that cared, isn't possible to assess. One night the group realized the father's desire to have his handicapped son come home where he could be cared for with the attention only parents give. A member of the group, a builder, decided it was time to do something. The result is that by the time you read this article, that son will be home in a special room added to the father's house, built at the initiative of some who cared.

"Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another" (1 John 4:11). That is still our greatest need today.

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David E. Thomas is pastor of the Amesbury Seventh-day Adventist church, Amesbury, Massachusetts.

August 1983

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