Monthly Archives: February 2016

1 Corinthians


Of course, I cannot really compare myself with the apostle Paul, but there are some  similarities between us. One of these is that we both like to write. Paul was in the habit of writing letters. We do not know how many he actually wrote, but some of them we can still read today, as they have been included in our Bible. Ever since, millions of people have been able to read them. Yet, we must keep in mind that Paul’s original readers were not very numerous. He sent his letters to churches that may have consisted of a few hundred members at most, divided over a number of house churches. The letters were probably also read by neighboring churches, but the total audience was rather restricted.

Among the things I write is my weekly blog. As soon as I have written a new blog I dispatch it to the world in digital format. To my astonishment I have readers in far-away corners of the earth, even in China, South-America, Japan and Iceland. Without any exaggeration I can state that I have more readers than Paul had in his days. (Admittedly, what I write will not be read for as long a period as what Paul wrote)

Paul addressed his letters to local churches that he knew well. My blogs are primarily intended for the people in the faith community that I know well, i.e. the Adventist Church. Paul was often critical with regard to what he had heard about the way of life and the faith of the members of those churches. The readers of my blogs will have noticed that I also tend to be rather critical with respect to lots of things I see in my church. But there the parallel must end. It was only intended to introduce the ‘message’ of this week.

In recent days I re-read the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians. Once again it struck me how good it is to read a book of the Bible in its entirety, preferably in one session. That may not be feasible for such Bible books as the Psalms or Ezekiel, but reading 1 Corinthians takes at most only two hours.

Paul had quite a few unpleasant things to say to the church members in Corinth. There were lots of issues that needed to be addressed. The church suffered from major divisions, with several groups claiming their own favorite leader (1:11, 12). But there were also other problems. Paul had heard of immorality in the church, on a scale that did not even occur in ‘the world’, but had become quite common among the members (5:1). The members of the church also took each other to court (6:1). In addition, there were serious disturbances during the worship services (11) and serious deviations with regard to a few key facets of the Christian faith. Some Corinthians Christians even denied that there would be a resurrection of the dead (15:12).

I would suggest: Read or re-read this letter for yourself. After I had read the sixteen (mostly short) chapters, I concluded: Fortunately, things are not as bad in most of the local churches that I know, as they were in Corinth!

Having read the entire epistle it is important to return for a few moments to the first chapter, where we read:  ‘I am writing to God’s church in Corinth to you who have been called by God to be his own holy people. He made you holy by means of Christ Jesus, just as he did for all people everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours. May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace. I always thank my God for you and for the gracious gifts he has given you, now that you belong to Christ Jesus. Through him, God has enriched your church in every way—with all of your eloquent words and all of your knowledge. This confirms that what I told you about Christ is true. Now you have every spiritual gift you need as you eagerly wait for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will keep you strong to the end so that you will be free from all blame on the day when our Lord Jesus Christ returns. God will do this, for he is faithful to do what he says, and he has invited you into partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord’ (1:4-9, NLT).

Yes, Paul criticized the Corinthians. But, in spite of all the things that were wrong, they were the church of Christ and all would end well! Reading this, it seems that I have every reason to also remain positive and optimistic, and to trust that eventually things will also be well for my church—even though I often see and experienee things that I find very difficult to accept!




I have a hate-love relationship with IKEA. On the one hand, I greatly admire the IKEA-concept and the founder of the worldwide IKEA-imperium. The Swede Ingvar Kamprad established his company in 1943, when he was only 17 years old. The name of his firm—IKEA—is based on a combination of Kamprad’s initials (I and K) and the first letters of Elmtaryd and Agunnaryd (E en A), the names of the farm and the village, respectively, where Kamprad grew up. The  company that had a very modest beginning, some seventy years ago, is now a mammoth-concern with 349 blue-yellow super-shops in 43 countries.

So far, nothing but praise. But a visit to an IKEA-store is a mixed blessing. The coffee is excellent and I love the small meat balls (köttbullar). The restaurant is, therefore, a good start for an IKEA-expedition. And in the separate food shop (after the cash register) you can find Europe’s best herring. (Especially the herring in mustard sauce is to be recommended.) However, between those two moments you have to embark on an long walk, through the entire store, even when you know  exactly where you want to be and what you want to buy.

This week I had to make the trip to IKEA. We were to buy a TV cabinet, with some adjoining storage space. After inspecting the possibilities we opted for something from the Bestå assortment. Fortunately, there were not too many people around and we could find a very pleasant and helpful IKEA-employee who made a list of all the items we needed, including, doors, hinges, legs, etc. My blind trust in this good man proved, however, to be somewhat premature: when we arrived home and I began to assemble our new piece of furniture, we had only eight in stead of the twelve legs we needed. And so, the next day, I had to take the same extended walk through the entire IKEA-store!

After some five hours of assemblage, the job was successfully completed, but I still feel—three days later—the stiffness in various parts of my body, due to the strange contortions I was forced to experience in performing these activities.

A job like this does, almost automatically, also give ground for some reflections. For, as I was turning the ingenious IKEA-nuts and bolts, it occurred to me that the world of IKEA in some ways resembles the Adventist Church.  For one thing: books are very important in the Adventist church, just as they are for IKEA. Who has not seen the annual IKEA-catalogue, that is printed in an edition of tens of millions of copies. In many families it is perused more diligently than the Bible.

IKEA has a very clear profile. All stores look exactly the same, both inside and outside. And all have the same product range. And although Adventist church buildings come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, the Adventist denomination also strives for a clear identity that may be recognized everywhere in the world, and it wants to offer the same product everywhere.

There is, however, an even more striking similarity. When you buy an IKEA-product and take it home, there is nothing you can do to modify what you have bought. The product has been designed for you, with certain measurements and colors, etc.—and you will have to be satisfied with the content of the packages you have brought home. Likewise, when you ‘buy’ a ‘product’ in the Adventist Church, you get a product that has been defined for you by the church, and you are not supposed to use you own imagination to modify it.

Thinking about this, I decided that I, in fact, would prefer a kind of LEGO-approach rather than the IKEA-model. The successful formula of this Danish toy-maker is splendid in its simplicity. Each person on this earth has now, on average, over one hundred LEGO-pieces. As time passed this versatile toy has also received many ‘serious’ applications. The small building blocks have a definite form and size, but you may put them together as you wish.

A church that provides the building blocks that enable you to build your own faith structure has a stronger appeal for me than a church that will only deliver a set range of products. Both IKEA and LEGO are marvelous concepts, but when I link them to the church I prefer LEGO!


Kangaroos and the Flood, etc.


No country in the world has such strange and unique animals as Australia. Of course, in this connection we immediately think of the kangaroo, who serves as the national symbol—which I also noticed on the tail of the Qantas plane that brought my wife and myself earlier this week from Melbourne to Singapore.

The kangaroo is just one of a large variety of marsupials. The koala is another popular example. The fact that these creatures are only found in Australia causes numerous problems, both for the proponents of evolution as well as for those who defend a literal creation as described in the Bible. Seeing the kangaroos and wallaby’s hopping around the hotel in Tasmania, where we stayed a night just a fortnight ago, made me wonder how these animals could have hopped to Noah’s ark, and back again, without leaving any traces anywhere.

Evolutionists tells us that tens of millions of years ago Australia was part of a supercontinent (Gondwana). At a certain point in time this land mass fell apart and Australia drifted away. Certain species of animals disappeared elsewhere (as e.g. in Africa and South America) because of natural enemies, but these were not yet present in Australia, when it separated from the rest, and therefore these categories could develop unthreatened. This supposedly explains why only Australia has marsupials. Well, I was not there to see it.

The experience of Charles Darwin comes to mind. With his Beagle he arrived at the Galapágos islands in 1835. He noticed that dozens of species of birds and many kinds of reptiles were unique to those islands. He believed that this unmistakably pointed in the direction of  evolution.

Some twenty years ago I spent about a month on church-related business in Madagascar. There I had the chance to see the great diversity in flora and fauna on this island in the Indian Ocean (that covers about the same surface as the country of France). The majority of all species of butterflies that exist worldwide are only found in Madagascar. This is also true for about a thousand kinds of orchids, 300 kinds of frogs, and numerous insects. The best known animal species that is unique to Madagascar is probably the lemur—a monkey-like mammal that most of us only know from a visit to the zoo. Here also we are confronted with questions that challenge the evolutionists and the creationists alike.

I doubt whether I will ever hear a satisfying explanation for this type of natural phenomena. I do not believe the evolutionist can provide a final answer to this kind of questions, but must admit that I also find it extremely difficult to fit all of this into a creation of six literal days, some 6.000 to 10.000 years ago, with subsequently a ‘recent’ worldwide Flood.

Many of the things we observe in nature exceed our limited understanding. Years ago, during a holiday in the USA, my wife and I drove along the Pacific Highway in California. Suddenly we saw lots of cars parked and loads of people bending over a rails and looking at something beneath. On a small piece of beach of barely a few hundred maters in length, near Priedas Blanca, hardly a square inch of sand could be seen because of the more than 15 thousands elephant seals that once again had decided to embark on this beach to have their young. These enormous animals, most of which weigh at least two tons, return each year to this tiny piece of beach. What inbuilt mechanism in their animal brain propels them again and again to exactly the same spot?

Two weeks ago we enjoyed a visit to Phillip Islands, an island with a surface of about 100 square kilometers, south-east of Melbourne. Our aim was to see the tiny blue penguins that return there every evening at just a few spots. We read the announcements that they were expected to come that evening at 20.57 hrs. I wondered how they could make this precise prediction. These tiny ‘fairy’ penguins, that catch our imagination, swim out into the sea for some 15 tot 20 kilometers, and return in the evening with their catch to feed their young. It was 20.56 hrs. when the first penguin appeared from the water and came waddling onto the beach. Soon this first one was followed by some 1500 others. They had been waiting for the most favorable circumstances (in particular the right amount of light), with the least danger of attacks by vultures. They know how to find their nests, in small holes, some of which are as much as two kilometers from the beach. It was an event we will long remember. But how in the world is it possible that each day again these creatures come ashore at a precise time and know exactly where to go?

Nature around us leaves us with many questions. But considering the number of strange and amazing things I find myself thinking more of a creative, divine, Power than of a process that is steered by mere chance. How God created all things remains something I cannot and need not explain. The Bible tell me nothing about kangaroos, lemurs and elephant seals, nor about the Australian ‘fairy penguins’ on Phillip Island. But I am happy to conclude that a Creator God was, and is, somehow involved in all of this.


A remarkable conflict

I know Gilbert Valentine as a sharp historian and talented author. I am thinking in particular of his book The Prophets and the Presidents (Pacific Press, 2011), in which he offers a fascinating account of the rather complicated relationship between Ellen G. White and three of the presidents of the worldwide Adventist Church in her days. The book paints a very human picture of Ellen White, her feelings for certain person and the manner in which she often tried to influence—or even to manipulate—the decision making process of the church.

A week or so ago I saw another book of his for the first time, hidden in a corner on a shelf in the Adventist Book Center in Melbourne: The Struggle for the Prophetic Heritage. The subtitle clearly defines the topic of the book: Issues in the Conflict for Control of the Ellen G. White Publications, 1930-1939. It was published in 2006 by the college in Thailand where Valentine taught theology at the time.

Gilbert Valentine details in this book the history of the conflict between church leadership and those who were responsible for the care for the literary heritage of Ellen White after her death in 1915. This did not only concern the rights of her books that were published during her life, but also a great number of letters, diaries and other, hitherto never published, documents. Some aspects of her last will were rather unclear on the question who would inherited the unpublished manuscripts and who would, therefore, make the decisions about a possible future publication of them. In any case, Willen C. White—the oldest son of Ellen White who had been named in the will as one of the trustees who were to care for the writings after her death—saw himself as the legal owner of at least part of her literary heritage. He, therefore, felt that he could make the decision about any further publication. Top church leadership vehemently disagreed and preferred that there would be no further publications besides the books, etc that had been published during Ellen White’s life.

The matter was further complicated by the fact that Ellen White had a very considerable debt at the moment of her death, which could not be covered by the assets she left behind. The leaders of the church were unwilling to take on this responsibility and forced the heirs to temporarily hand the assets (as e.g. her home in California) over into the custody of the church, until sufficient royalties from the sale of her books would have been received to clear the debt.

Those who want to read the full story of the (at times quite bitter) controversy between the trustees of Ellen White’s literary heritage and the church, should read Valentine’s book. For most readers of the blog it might be difficult to lay their hands on a copy of this book. I looked in vain for it on and on the website of the Adventist Book Center. However, I discovered that the book may be downloaded from:

Some readers may find the book quite disconcerting. How was it possible that it would not be until 1939 that a satisfactory solution was found for the question what to do with the unpublished documents, since this was a major cause for conflict? Repeatedly William White emerges from the story as a rather stubborn person who had a difficulty realizing that the work of Ellen White was the communal ‘possession’ of the church, rather than the private property of his family.

I thought that I am rather well informed about most aspects of the history of Adventism, but this book filled a definite gap in my knowledge. However, it did not worry me unduly. Ellen White was not a saint, nor were her sons. And the church leaders that feature in Valentine’s account were also far from perfect. But this also applies to most of us today, and certainly to me personally. But in spite of this we may gratefully acknowledge that we are part of something bigger than us as individuals and may trust that our good Lord still wants to use us—with our gifts and talents but also with our imperfections and stubbornness.