Between being a young leader in an aged church and interviewing dozens of other Adventists over the past couple of weeks, it’s become clear to me that there’s a pretty big gap in how we view the direction Adventism is moving in. Some feel like we’re sliding down further and further into worldliness, others see the church climbing out of it. There are all kinds of ways to slice up people’s attitudes, but in this post I want to cover two of the most common things I hear when I talk about the future of the Adventist church.
The Church is Regressing
I’m usually clued into this attitude when we start talking about youth or entertainment. There’s a particular set of verses that people rely on here, especially things that sound like the first few verses of 2 Timothy:
“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.”
What they then do with verses like these is apply them to everyone outside the church, or to those in the church stepping outside of their silently agreed upon comfort zones. And in a way, I get it. Even at 25 I grew up being taught all of the different things that the devil was trying to use to lure me into hell. Secular music. Twilight. Harry Potter. Dancing. Public school. Science. Liberals. Before I ventured out of my 14-year stay in the Adventist school system I still believed much of this. I thought when I began attending a public college people would hate me or be all kinds of sinful. This perception did not match what I actually found, nor did it encourage me to act like Christ. When I thought of sin, I thought of things like premarital/extramarital sex, violent entertainment, and crime. Among those I speak with, these seem to be the priority issues for people who are afraid of where the church is headed. On the other hand, there are others who are more afraid of where the church already is.
The Church is Progressing
Nearly the inverse of the above mentality is the belief that the church is progressing. Movement toward greater empathy, greater inclusion, and stronger relationships with non-Adventists are seen as growth. People with this mentality seem to have more anxiety about how the church already is than about it losing its moral ground. The fear is that we are already deceived by societal bias and deeply ingrained, man-made traditions, and that unless we venture out of those we will never reach the world outside. The same verses, such as those in 2 Timothy, seem to speak about us as Adventists as much as about the rest of society. Phrases like “lovers of pleasure” extend beyond sex and entertainment into self-gratification and collection of wealth. Concentrated efforts to listen to those traditionally quieted by the church, and messages about empathy are seen as signs that the church is progressing. The heaviest concerns weighing on the minds of people with this attitude seem to be legalism, exclusive attitudes, lack of compassion, judgment, and prejudice.
I’m a young Adventist that cares deeply about both our church’s responsibility to our neighbors and solid theology. That means challenging both stiff-necked attitudes and self-serving, summary use of biblical evidence. I know where I stand here, but the question I keep coming back to is “how can we talk to each other?” How can we connect and learn together, challenge ourselves together, and grow into the people God wants us to be? I’m still working on the answer.