How much diversity can we stand?

These four articles represent four significant segments within the church today.

J. David Newman is the former editor of Ministry

In October 1994 we will be commemorating the 150th anniversary of 1844. Today our church is no longer as simple, specific, and focused as it was back then. As it has grown in size it has also grown in diversity. With diversity have come concerns that our church has lost its focus, its mission, even its identity. What is the Seventh-day Adventist Church today?

Adventist Today (Vol. 2, No. 1) recently published four articles each claiming to be the best representation of Adventism. These four articles represent four significant segments within the church today.

Mainstream Adventism

Kenneth Wood, former editor of the Adventist Review, writes under the title "The Mother of Us All: Main stream Adventism." Wood is troubled by polarization. He says that "true 'mainstreamers' are troubled by polarization within the church, whether it be caused by issues rooted in race, gender, or doctrine. To achieve unity, they seek to minimize differences. Except where principle or landmark doctrines are involved, they try to find common ground on which to stand with fellow church members."

Wood believes that the Adventist Church was "raised up supernaturally," and that its purpose is "to give to a rebellious world God's final loving appeal to repent. Against the background of the cosmic controversy between Christ and Satan, it sees it self as the remnant church, which keeps 'the commandments of God,' and has 'the testimony of Jesus Christ'—defined by the revelator as 'the spirit of prophecy.' Its mission is to take the three angels' messages to 'every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people.' The basis for this self-perception and mission is found in Revelation 14:6-12; 12:17; 19:10."

Evangelical Adventism

A second view of Adventism is expressed under the title "Evangelical Adventism: Clinging to the Old Rugged Cross." Three authors combined to write this piece—Michelle Rader, David VanDenburgh, and Larry Christoffel, the latter two being on the pastoral staff of the Loma Linda Campus Hill Church. "Theologically, evangelical Adventists identify the gospel's meaning and practical implications as their chief concern. . . .

"Scripturally, the 'gospel' is the 'good news' that God reconciles (justifies, 'counts righteous,' redeems, forgives, saves) the lost sinner on the basis of the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ when received through faith apart from the works of the law.

. . . The inevitable experiential result of this belief is a personal relation ship with God, a dedication to an ever-deepening understanding of God's will and character, and a trans formation of the heart that produces genuine love and concern for others as well as a passion for personal holiness.

"Evangelical Adventists believe that God raised up the Seventh-day Adventist Church to help prepare the world for Christ's return by preaching this gospel clearly with power. . . .Our distinctive Adventist beliefs must never be allowed to eclipse the gospel or become the focus of our evangelism."

Progressive Adventism

Another wing of the church is represented by Madelynn Jones-Haldeman (religion professor at La Sierra University). She writes under the rubric "Progressive Adventism: Dragging the Church Forward." Haldeman states that "a progressive Adventist is one who dares to ask questions about everything and who does not need to have all the answers. Some in every generation find the answers of the older generation not only ineffective but outdated."

She believes that "the acceptance of and the egalitarian treatment of a person is more important than any doctrinal teaching."

Historic Adventism

Ralph Larson, former professor in the then Philippine Adventist Seminary, presents "Historic Adventism: Remembering to Trust and Obey." Historic Adventists feel that the church has departed from certain vital beliefs. These include: people receive weakness from Adam, not guilt; Christ came in the nature of Adam after the Fall; righteousness by faith, rather than salvation in sin; the sanctuary teaching; belief in the Spirit of Prophecy.

Historic Adventists believe that if the church does not reform in the above areas, a "large class who have professed faith in the third angel's message, but have not been sanctified through obedience to the truth, [will] abandon their position, and join the ranks of the opposition."

Bj. Christensen, president of Southern California Conference, sums up these four viewpoints under the title "Dialogue or Ballots?" He says "It is time for us to minimize the differences elucidated by these four views. It is high time to focus on what we can learn from each other, care fully listening, prayerfully considering views that differ from our current positions. The synergism of such dialogue allows for diversity and ad dresses changes of position slowly and thoughtfully. It also avoids the static views which have become the battle cry of some."

Where do you stand, pastor? There is no denying that there are four, and probably more, positions in the Adventist Church today. Should we embrace all four positions? How much room is there for pluralism? When do differences become so big that they destroy rather than build? Who decides what the emphasis should be?

In preparing for our special October issue we want to print your responses to the question "What is the primary mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church today?" Please keep your response to a maximum of 250 words. We will pay $25 for each one we print. Send to October Special, Ministry, 12501 Old Columbia Pike, Silver Spring, MD 20904, U.S.A. by July 1.

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J. David Newman is the former editor of Ministry

April 1994

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