Friday, September 12, 2008
In May of 2005, thru a series of unexpected happenings, I began to study more carefully into my personal beliefs and understandings of the Bible. My family roots reach down into the soil where Seventh-day Adventism germinated and became anchored. My great great grandparents attended meetings where Ellen White's preaching laid out in graphic detail the images of future destruction. They wanted to be part of the faithful group that stood firm to the end and gladly joined ranks with the remnant. They started an unbroken chain of adherents to the Advent faith that linked me into its culture. I felt safe in this sanctuary of certainty that allowed me to grow without "worldly" interference. Within its preserve I thrived and prospered. While it kept most of the influences of the world at bay, it was not without internal predators. The people were, after all, humans who left inconsistencies and downright wrongs behind them the way flies leave specks. Some of the picayunish squabbles that resulted simply annoyed me. For those I affected disdain and withheld approval. Other issues seemed so intolerable or grievously in error that I charged them like a crusader riding for reform. Sometimes, increments of change resulted from my crusades. Sometimes I fell off my horse and nursed my wounds; but I kept getting up and trying to effect movement.
My family provenance provided me with the proper credentials to question and challenge the potentially destructive elements from within. We had followed the trend that one of my teachers at Walla Walla College called the "sociogram of Adventism": farmer, minister, doctor. My brother and I became doctors who had grown up in the home of an Adventist minister whose father was a farmer in Texas. We gathered each evening for "worship" where we heard daily readings from Ellen White. They became so familiar to me that when I closed my eyes, I could conjure up the picture of that group of saints tiptoeing along tightrope mountain trails on their precarious journey to Heaven. I loved the cadence of her language and the rich imagery evoked in my receptive mind by her words. I felt fear-inspired resolve and not a small modicum of comfort in knowing that we were the chosen of God.
Adventism is an interesting proposition. The longer I live, the more complexity I see within its matrix. For much of my life, the church seemed quite monolithic and homogeneous. Perhaps I was just unaware of its mosaic character earlier, but I began seeing the divergence and cracks in the church during the 70's when I was a medical student at Loma Linda University. It was then that Ronald Numbers published the book that placed Southern California at the epicenter of a 6.5 tilt on the Heresy Scale. The relentless aftershocks that followed in succession eclipsed the mother quake both in intensity and magnitude. The resulting shift of the Earth under planet Adventism has spawned revisionism that would have seemed impossible thirty years ago.
In the past two years, the Adventist Church has undergone cosmic repackaging. Writers like Clifford Goldstein have been rewriting history to create a kinder, gentler Adventism. In his Adventism, the historical Investigative Judgment became metaphorical, and its definition a moving target. For Andy Nash, in Adventist Today, the church became "community" first, a place of belonging, an exercise in recovery that encourages the traumatized to tolerantly pat Adventism's infancy on the head and smile indulgently. For Samir Selmanovic the church is a forum for embracing inclusive expansion of heart in a manner reminiscent of Buddhism. For the writers of Red Books, Adventism is a family with a tree full of lovably errant characters who need to be forgiven in order to move on to maturity.
So, what is the unifying element in this newly multilithic society? What is it that prevents this evolving, confused and disparate group from fragmenting into its constituent parts? The one solid, immovable rock, the central lith, seems to be the Sabbath. It runs like a chain thru all of the keyholes and binds the separate pieces together as a whole. With all of the diverging views - liberal, traditional, and evangelical streams - which run so far apart, there is one unifying force: the Sabbath. A stake driven so deeply into the heart of Adventism that removing it would create a fatal hemorrhage.
Even the university-student generation that has heard little of the writings of Ellen White, and believe themselves unaffected by her prolific pen, plant their feet firmly on the central point of agreement within Adventism, the Sabbath. How they observe it would make their grandparents flush, but, nonetheless, its "truth" is non-negotiable - even among the young. On a more unconscious level, the state of the dead and the belief that God created the church out of the reinterpretation of William Miller's failed run at Heaven, are other subjects that remain unassailable in all of the various streams.
In pondering the "sticking" quality of those beliefs, I began to wonder why it was not the cross that occupied the place of sine qua non. The cross had always been more peripheral, more negotiable, defended with far less zeal and passion by my Sabbath School teachers, parents, ministers, and professors. I wondered why. The wondering grew into a compulsion to know. My attempts at understanding that conundrum form the core of the studies listed below. I invite you to join me in taking a closer look than you may have ventured into before. It may answer some puzzling questions you've had in the past. It may raise some questions you've never thought to ask. But if you aren't afraid to confront your core beliefs, you may find that you experience a deeper conviction and trust in the scriptures as a result. I did.
There is a section for comments at the end of each page.
Ultimate Rest is a look at the Who of the Sabbath instead of the usual "when" of the Sabbath.
Spirit explores the ways in which we are created in the image of God and how that changes the definition of "spirit."
Faith or Fear? is a juxtaposition of salvation by faith and the Investigative Judgment from a historical, but practical, Christian perspective.
Clicking on each title will take you to that study. Where you end up may surprise you. It surprised me.