Worship, Ministry, and the Authority of the Church
edited by Ángel Manuel Rodríguez, Studies in Adventist Ecclesiology, vol. 3, Silver Spring, MD: Biblical Research Institute, 2016.
Worship, Ministry, and the Authority of the Church completes a theological trilogy published by the Biblical Research Institute and joins its predecessors (Toward a Theology of the Remnant; and Message, Mission, and Unity of the Church) in filling a longstanding need in Seventh-day Adventist theology, specifically, Adventist ecclesiology. The book’s 17 chapters by 15 authors include 1 of multiple authorship (3 authors). There are also three appendices, Scripture and subject indices, and an introduction by Elias Brasil de Souza, current director of the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s Biblical Research Institute. Informed laypersons may expect to find its treatment of ideas both accessible and informative, whether they deal with just the basics of worship practice or the theological contention between Catholicism’s trans-, Martin Luther’s con-, and Ulrich Zwingli’s “non”-substantiation. At the same time, the book’s list of abbreviations for scholarly works consulted points to its preparation for rigorous academic use as well.
The international and theological breadth of Adventist scholarship is on full display in this book. Worship, one of its foci, has not always enjoyed the closest of attention from Adventist theologians. Law and prophecy have generated much more reflection and commentary. This book’s work in the areas treated—worship, ministry, and authority in Adventist ecclesiology—bodes well for the growth and deepening of the church’s understandings and practice in these vital areas.
Mention may perhaps be made of a few of the book’s many significant contributions to the topics it treats. Sergio Becerra and Theodore Levterov show, respectively, how Adventist worship owes much to the simplicity of Anabaptist faith and the spontaneity and Low Church character of America’s mid-nineteenth-century Millerite movement that birthed the Seventh-day Adventist Church. And Daniel Oscar Plenc’s development of an Adventist worship theology—eight theological elements and seven liturgical principles—derives from his study of the whole Bible, being most firmly buttressed by his Old Testament study, particularly the Psalms. Plenc’s eight theological elements are not to be confused with editor Rodríguez’ eight elements, whose focus is the practice of certain Adventist worship behaviors (sitting, kneeling, or standing for prayer, etc.) rather than the theology that might validate certain worship concepts (divine grandeur and centrality, redemption, praise, proclamation, freedom, etc.).
Levterov’s segue to “Principles of Liturgical Practice” (130–132) felt somewhat abrupt after his treatment and conclusion on the biblical material. Both he and Denis Fortin are aware of an earlier stage of Adventism that showed more heart religion and the emotions that entails, than Adventist worship now does. At the same time, postmodern religious eclecticism that satisfies the individual worshiper’s tastes may well be but a contemporary variation on the theme of personal feelings that were more freely expressed in late nineteenth-century worship celebration. Sung Ik Kim advises of the effectiveness of stories and dialogue in communicating eternal truths to the relativistic mentality of the postmodern worshiper. And Teresa Reeve’s writing on “Authority” (two chapters) shows how Jesus’ teaching on authority “turns on its head everything that humans feel and think about power and authority” (282).
If we may forgive the mischief of the printer’s devil who renders Frank Hasel’s promised list of five issues as a, b, c, and e (214), we may also join in welcome for, and diligent study of, this new book that both traces and contributes to Adventism’s increasing theological maturity.
—Reviewed by Lael Caesar, PhD, associate editor of Adventist Review and Adventist World and research professor of Hebrew Bible, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan, United States.