Is it “Christian” or is it “Christ-like?” It saddens me that I have to stop and make this distinction every day, but I do. As I’ve progressed through my twenties I’ve found myself questioning many of the popular opinions I find across the Adventist (and broader Christian) faith. For me, the most confusing part of being a Christian in 2017 is when issues come up and fellow believers take the what I believe to be the opposite approach of Jesus. More specifically, I believe we’ve fallen into being more concerned over what other Adventists would think of our opinions, instead of what Jesus would actually want us to do. Let me illustrate.
“Is that ok, pastor?” At 26 years old I have the privilege of being the youngest member to sit on my church board. I come to meetings, help decide how to allocate church funds, and discuss strategies for serving our community in Orangeburg, South Carolina with the rest of the leadership. In a recent meeting, we somehow found ourselves talking about dancing–an old Adventist favorite. The dancing which we were discussing was ceremonial, and not at all sexual. Somehow one of my fellow board members was still confused as to whether this kind of thing would be appropriate–not in church, but just in life. Instead of searching the Bible herself and forming an opinion, she asked “is that kind of dancing ok, pastor?”
“Why did she ask this?” I wondered. Why did she turn to the pastor, instead of the Bible? I’ve seen similar situations play out throughout my life. Instead of turning to God’s Word, we turn to majority opinions (which, in most of our Bible stories, did not align with God’s will anyway). We ask, “will other Adventists give me a hard time if I believe differently?” “Will my pastor?” The problem with this kind of mentality is that we strip ourselves from the need for personal devotions. We ask for quick verses that seem to fit each situation instead of looking at the Bible and its message as a whole.
Personal study results in differing opinions. It should. I do believe my pastor and elders are wise, godly people, however I don’t believe that they are authorities above the Bible itself. We have different interpretations of what the Bible says sometimes, which gives us ample opportunity for healthy debates. It’s one big reason why I keep coming back to church.
NEXT STEPS: Young Adult Ministry Training
It’s ok to disagree.
Several months ago I entered the rotation to teach Sabbath School at our little church. I understood that there would be some tension going in. As one of only a handful of Millennials in a senior-dominated church, the potential for conflict was pretty high. I remember just a few weeks ago hearing the statement “women are biologically more compassionate than men.” It was an opinion stated as fact, no supporting evidence or studies were provided. “I don’t know that I agree with you there,” I responded. And guess what? No one got angry. We’ve cultivated a relationship in which both the senior members and I–the young teacher–are able to challenge each other and still maintain our relationships. The same thing happened another Sabbath while discussing moral and ceremonial laws. One woman felt very strongly that getting a tattoo was morally wrong, citing Leviticus 19:28 which reads “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord.” Our understandings on Leviticus 19:28 remain very different. It was plain from our discussion in Sabbath School that they were. Yet I couldn’t help but wonder whether the woman’s opinion had been formed from personal study, or from the opinions she’d been exposed to from other members and leadership.
Where do we turn when we don’t understand?
In no way am I suggesting that we should not ask our leaders and church family for help in understanding God’s will. We gather together each week to strengthen and encourage each other, to work through our spiritual education, and to prepare ourselves to serve our communities. We should discuss our beliefs together. But we shouldn’t let people determinethem. Our relationship with God and personal study should do that.
It’s with this in mind that I approach my ministry. Instead of asking “is it Christian (what would other Christians think)?” I ask, “is it Christ-like?” From the complaining followers of Moses, to the legalistic, abusive Pharisees, God’s people have always struggled with this. There are so many pressing issues facing the church. How can we reach a secular world? How can we retain our youth? How can we connect with each other in a positive, powerful way? No matter what we’re facing, we have a couple options: either look to people, or look to Christ.