I am a natural optimist, but seeing some recent developments in my church this optimism lately has a hard time surviving. That was, in particular, true during the past two weeks as I was reading the reports of the conference about faith and science in Utah (USA), in which more than 300 Adventist leaders and teachers participated. The goal of the conference was once again to convince the participants of a literal reading of the creation story and of the theory of a ‘young earth’. This latter term indicates the belief that not only the creation of man and the other creatures, as well as the ordering of Planet Earth, took place some six thousand years ago, but that the earth itself (and perhaps even the universe) is not older than that.
I am no expert in the areas of evolution, biology, geology, etc., But so much is clear to me that these ideas are not very popular with the specialists. And personally I see no biblical or theological necessity to arrive at such conclusions. To me it rather appears that the Adventist Church is in danger of following the example of the leaders of the medieval church, who kept condemning the scientific discoveries of people like Galileo Galilei as heresies—a very unfortunate approach that was to haunt the church for centuries, until they had to humbly admit that, after all, the scientists had been right. I fear that my church runs the danger of following the same path, and that we run the risk of being accused (and justifiably so) of obscurantism and sectarian fundamentalism.
In one of his speeches the president of the General Conference stated that those who do not wholeheartedly subscribe to the teaching of a creation in six literal days, are not real Adventists and that pastors and teachers who do not fully support this point of view would do better to hand in their credentials. Earlier the president made similar statements that also denied large groups of church members the right to call themselves Seventh-day Adventists. A true Adventist, it has been repeatedly stated, has only one way of looking at the inspiration of Scripture! Whoever does not accept the ‘plain reading’ approach and who confesses to see some value in the historical-critical method is on a forbidden track. Anyone who does not appreciate Ellen G. White in the same way as is proposed by the president, would do better to leave. And that is true of those who place some question marks behind certain aspects of the traditional Adventist teaching of the heavenly sanctuary. And, surely, there can be no place for men and women who believe that gay members should be allowed to fully participate in church life.
There have been moments when I thought: Would I not do better to look for another spiritual home? For in a number of areas I do not fit the profile of a ‘real Adventist, as this has repeatedly been promoted by the president of our world church. Four years ago I wrote in a blog that with the election of the current president the church put the clock fifty years backward. I now realize that was far too optimistic. It would now rather appear that the clock was pushed backward for about a century, back to the heyday of fundamentalism of the 1920’s en 1930’s.
But, no, leaving is no option. My church is not perfect, but in spite of the many things I do not like in my church, it continues to be my church. And, fortunately, the office in Silver Spring does not determine whether of not I am truly part of that church. There is an invisible church and a visible church organization. When it concerns the invisible church: God is the only one who knows who are his. And I have full confidence that he counts me among his children. And as to the visible organization where I hold membership, there are only two parties who have a decisive voice in this matter. In the first place this is the local church and not some higher church organization—not even the General Conference. As long as the local church does not vote to annul my membership, I am a church member who retains all the rights connected with this membership and no one can do anything about it. Then, secondly, it is up to me to decide whether I want to be a member of the church. I can decide to stay a member or I can decide that I want to cancel my membership. Apart from my local church and myself no one has any say in whether I am a full and regular church member or not. It is a comforting thought that some things in our church are, in fact, as they should be.