There's room for us all . . ." When applied to the Seventh-day Adventist Church, is that assertion too inclusive, too unsuspecting of the subtleties of "creeping compromise"? Or does it voice a legitimate call for respect and interpersonal forbearance?
How far may we take such a declaration when it comes to the cultural, theological, and behavioral diversity within our ranks. The question becomes loaded when placed in the light of the various challenges from outside the Church that molest our faith and identity, and then manifest themselves within. These challenges intensify the struggle between opening up, progressing, and adapting on one hand, versus conserving, preserving, and safeguarding what we have on the other.
Seminal questions underlie these concerns: What is mainstream to the soul of the Adventist faith, and what is tributary? What is aortic to our spiritual organism, and what is capillary? When is something that confronts our faith worth a fight to the death, and when is such a fight "much ado about nothing"? Ministry must, by its nature, grapple with such issues. So, how disparate can a magazine like this be while still possessing a true, healthy, cohesive editorial philosophy or theology?
This particular Ministry issue illustrates this dilemma, for it presents at least one article that may be seen to lean to the left and one that leans to the right. Is the magazine big enough for such diversity? Or, more pointedly, is the Church?
Here are a few thoughts that briefly address some of the dynamics behind the question of how much room should be left for this or that view (or person) in our world faith community:
1. As much as we might wish to make it seem otherwise, the lion's share of our detachments from one another seldom find ultimate viability in the cognitive, objective disagreements with one another over particular issues. Rather, our deep-seated divisions gain momentum from the interpersonal dis respect and finger-pointing that accompany our objective disagreements. This negativity is always out of place and finds its impetus outside the pale of Christian love and respect.
In other words, the weight of our desire to limit someone's room in the Church comes primarily from the negative relational dynamics that we experience; both those we send out to others, and those we receive from them. Thus, in Christ, we must first concentrate on reforming the way we view and relate to one another, even before we try to set one another straight else where. On this hangs the whole law and the prophets.
2. We need to decide for ourselves what is biblically mainstream and what is tradition-born and tributary to our faith. This is a crucial and highly Christian task. Just as significantly, we need to decide how, in Christ, we will relate to those whom we see to be contaminating the mainstream and those who merely seem to be tainting a tributary. This is what Paul did so magnificently in passages such as Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8.
3. We cannot afford to forget, too, that we need one another. I need my brother's (sister's) challenge to my thinking, and my sister (brother) needs mine. While God communicates His thoughts to individuals, in the end He always makes what He has said pass through the maturing, cleansing fires of His earthly community.
4. Then there is the reality of the essential loyalty of the person with whom I differ. People can say things that seem dangerous to me, and later they may prove not to be. Jesus Himself was good at introducing such "provocations." For that reason many accorded Him only the room He was assigned on a Roman gibbet!
So, where, after all, are a man's or woman's essential loyalties? There are just about always reliable indicators present in the words and demeanor of a person that indicate the basic loyalty quotient they possess. It is very significant to note that a person's elemental loyalty to God has a great deal to do with the value and viability of the views they advocate.
After all, the unity among us that really matters, always contains a dynamic Spiritual (with a capital "S") substance that should hold pre-eminence over the debated cognitive issues themselves. The cognitive themes are, of course, very important, but nothing of real value is ever merely cognitive.
These few thoughts are by no means exhaustive, and we cannot afford to casually say, "Sure there's room for us all." Bur all things considered, we can indeed say it more than we do, and we can truly believe it and mean it, and benefit from it.
Articles that appear in this issue of Ministry offer us an opportunity to see how much room there really is in the Church, or at least how much each of us actually thinks there is.