Most denominations have various streams or ‘modalities’. In most cases there is a segment of the membership ‘in the middle’, with a more ‘orthodox’ stream and a more ‘liberal’ stream on the ‘right’ and on the ‘left’ respectively In some denominations this causes no real problems, but in other faith communities it gives rise to considerable controversy.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church is no exception. And perhaps its diversity is even more pronounced (troublesome to many), since the worldwide Adventist Church consists of people from a myriad of cultures, while insisting on unity and a major degree of uniformity. It cannot be denied that there are different streams in Adventism. Different authors have suggested definitions and descriptions of these streams. I wrote about this in my recent book FACING DOUBT: A Book for Adventist Believers ‘on the Margins’ (pp. 83, 84). Very recently I was given a copy of a short editorial article that was written by Pastor Don Livesay, the president of the Lake Union (Lake Union Herald, January 2017, p. 3).
Don Livesay states that he has observed ‘five general faces of Adventism’, which he labels as follows:
- Radical conservative
- Faithful and traditional
- Loyal, active, gracious
- Relaxed Adventists
- Radical liberals.
Livesay realizes that there are no sharp dividing lines between these categories and that a person may feel that he belongs in some respect to one category, while in other respects feeling more at home in (an)other category(-ies).
Seeing such a list, the question presents itself: Where do I fit? I see myself mostly in categories 3 and 4. Let me briefly quote from Livesay’s description of these two groups:
3. Loyal, active, gracious: ‘. . . an important backbone of the church . . . a bit less traditional in styles of worship . . . wanting all that happens to be Christ-centered, and to track with both the beliefs and mission of the church. They have something good to share and are often able to reach various segments of society.’
4. Relaxed Adventists: ‘these folks tend to love the church, see themselves as progressive and are often less concerned with how carefully standards and practices are followed. Some seem to be a bit soft on some church doctrine and open to debate and challenging . . .’
To some extent I recognize myself in these descriptions, but I also feel comfortable with aspects of stream number 2 and 5. There is nothing that attracts me to number 1, the group of ‘fundamentalists who tend to interpret Scripture more by word than by core principles . . .’.
It is good to be frank about the issues that cause debate (and even controversy) in the church, and nothing is gained by covering up and denying these differences. And yet, I remain convinced that we must also continue to look at the other side. Very few people fit for 100 percent in a particular category. And, when all is said and done, all groups share in a number of important values and ideas of Adventism. That makes all of us, on whatever category we are, real Adventists.
May we, as the Christmas season draws near, and as we celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace, decide to also celebrate the fact that all of us have much in common, and can (in spite of our differences) together worship the One who came to save all of us.