Yearly Archives: 2018


Last week the Dutch media reported that in the Netherlands every day 267 persons terminate their membership of the church to which they belonged. In other words, in the period of a year one hundred thousand Dutch men and women leave their church. Unfortunately, this is only part of the sad picture, for there are also many who do not formally give up their membership, but have not been to church in years, or who gradually feel less and less connected with their faith community and are moving ever closer to the back door of the church. And this is not a trend that begun in 2018, but has been going on for years.

What about the Adventist Church? Well, it continues to grow. Per day, worldwide, some 3,500 people are baptized. In some countries in the South, in particular, we see a very substantial growth. However, this growth is not as phenomenal as was predicted some twenty years ago. At that time the prognosis was that around 2020 the number of Adventists would have risen to over thirty million. In reality, the total church membership is presently just under twenty million. For sure, still a respectable number, but quite a bit less than was predicted. Stagnation in the membership increase in the Western world is not the only challenge. The church is confronted with the worrisome fact that it proves very difficult to retain a large percentage of those who are baptized. Last week someone who is well-informed about such matters, told me that the leaders in the African country of Rwanda, where a few years ago over 110.000 people were baptized in a nationwide evangelistic campaign, expect that eventually 93 percent of these new members will disappear.

Nonetheless, the news is not only negative. There are plenty of developments in the Adventist Church that give rise to great concerns, but also many good things are happening, in the Netherlands as well as elsewhere. And while in 2018 once again one hundred thousand Dutch men and women left their church, here and there new faith communities were born and many churches that had suffered a sharp loss of members emerged from this painful process with renewed strength. Leaders of many local churches will tell you that their church can hardly survive, but other churches assert that they may be smaller than before but have a greater vitality and a clearer sense of mission. And in many places the arrival of large groups of immigrants has brought a new sense of purpose to many Christian communties in the Netherlands. It is good to realize that the story of the Dutch church is not only negative.

As, at the end of the year, we take stock of the state of the Christian church, it is important to keep an eye on the broader picture. Through the ages the church has experience good times and periods of decline. It cannot be denied that Christianity is facing many difficulties in this increasingly secular, postmodern period of history. But the Christian church is not about to disappear! We may take courage from the biblical promise that eventually there will be a. “great multitude” before the throne of God, that is so vast that no one can determine its size.

The Bible tells us that there will remain a “remnant”, a “rest” of believers who treasures their relationship with God and are determined to hold on to their faith in Jesus. I believe this “remnant” consists of a multicolored, multicultural, multitude of faithful and committed Lutherans, Roman-Catholics, Calvinists, Baptists, Pentecostals, and a richly diverse collection of other Christians. Adventists are called to be an important part of that “remnant”.  With their specific emphases they can make a major contribution to the proclamation of the gospel of Christ in our present world.

Let us in 2019 focus less on numbers than we often do, but decide  in full confidence to fulfill our mission to spread the gospel in word and action, making Christ known, with the special accents that enable Adventism also to enrich the faith experience of other Christians.


A little earlier than in most years the man who delivers early in the morning my newspaper rang our doorbell to give us his card with season greetings. It is long standing tradition to reward this person at Christmas time with a few Euros to express one’s appreciation for his faithful early morning service.

And then there is another important tradition in our home this week. On the twenty-second of December my wife and I go out for dinner to celebrate our wedding anniversary. (This year is the 54th anniversary.)

And I expect that this year the tradition will continue of building the temporary ice skating ring on one of the main squares in our town, and also of the presence of the “oliebollenkraam” (stall for deep-fried raisin buns) nearby.

Traditions are important in our lives, certainly around Christmas time. In most homes (including ours) the Christmas tree has been put up and a large percentage of the people (even of those who are not regular church attenders) plan to go to one of more Christmas services.

Seventh-day Adventists have often had an uneasy relationship with traditions—especially with those that relate to church and religion. But, whether or not we realize it, Adventists also have accepted many traditions. There is absolutely no biblical rule that the Lord’s Supper must be celebrated once in a quarter—it is a tradition that we have simply borrowed from our Methodist brothers and sisters. Many Adventist churches stick to a long-held tradition that the unused communion bread is to be burnt. Our annual week of prayer is characterized by a number of traditions that are very hard to change, as is our traditional order of the weekly worship service. Many other examples of Adventist traditions could be mentioned.

For a long time many Adventist churches in Europe did not want to have special Christmas services, let alone have a Christmas tree. Christmas, it was argued, was a tradition with a pagan origin and, therefore, had no place in a church that based its beliefs and practices on the Bible, rather than man-made traditions.

Life would, however, be extremely impoverished if we tried to do away with all traditions. We need family traditions. We need local traditions in the place where we live, as well as regional and national traditions. And we need traditions in our church. Local churches often have meaningful traditions that give that particular congregation its special character. And there is nothing wrong with having special world-wide Adventist traditions, as long as they do not kill every attempt at needed renewal.

Should we worry about where our traditions come from? Whether they have perhaps pagan or Roman Catholic or Calvinist roots? I do not think so. Traditions may have a long and often unclear history. Admittedly, some traditions may not helpful, and many traditions may change over time. I know of a few traditions in our church that we could well do without! But what counts is whether traditions continue to be meaningful. Not their origin but the present content and meaning is important.

I enjoy the Christmas season and many of its traditions. (In the Netherlands most of the gift-giving has already taken place at St Nicolas on December 5—another old tradition!). Christmas remains special.  I enjoy the carols and the Christmas lights in the streets and in buildingd and the over-all Christmas atmosphere.  As a minister I enjoy preparing a Christmas sermon and participating in Christmas services. And, in spite of the way in which the Christmas season is often over-commercialized, it is good to see how it remains an annual occasion when special attention is given to the coming of our Lord to this world.

I wish all readers of my blog a joyful and blessed Christmas.

How to get more out of your study of the Revelation

During the first quarter of 2019 the Seventh-day Adventist Church around the world will be studying the Book of Revelation. The study guide for the Sabbath School for the January-March period has been written by Dr. Ranko Stevanović, one of the church’s experts on this topic, After an author has submitted his/her manuscript it is evaluated by two committees before it receives its final edit and is sent to the publishing houses that prepare translations in many different languages. This process was also followed after Professor Stevanović had finished his work. But then something surprising happened. The publishing houses were informed that substantial changes were needed, since the manuscript contained serious errors, and then, at a very late stage, another version of the text for the study guide was sent with “major revisions to correct numerous errors throughout the manuscript”.

This process has caused serious concerns on the part of many of the people who have been involved in the preparations of the editions in the various languages. They wonder what is happening here. Apparently, one of our foremost scholars on the Book of Revelation is trusted enough to write a study guide and, apparently, the committees that have been carefully selected to evaluate the script were happy with what they received. But then the church’s administration stepped in and made sure that alleged “errors throughout the manuscript” would be “corrected”, so that it would fully conform to the traditional interpretations and no new ideas would be allowed to circulate. The main objections seem to have focused on ensuring that only a strict historicist interpretation would be followed and that the traditional adversity toward Roman Catholicism would be maintained in full vigor.

Concerned about this development, a friend of mine, Werner Lange, has initiated a very important project. Werner is the retired book-editor of the German Adventist Publishing House. He has edited several books by Jon Paulien about the Revelation. More recently he translated Paulien’s comments on Revelation 12–14, which appeared on Facebook and were also put into book format (German title: Der letzte Kampf).

Now he has started a project called Revelation DIY (Do it yourself). His aim is to make as many church members as possible aware of the fact that the interpretation of the Book of Revelation should not be frozen in time. The pioneers of the church have done a great work in making this Bible book relevant for the people in their time, and much of what they said and wrote remains valuable. But over time new insights have emerged, and it is important that these insights are allowed to augment and enrich the study that is provided by the official quarterly, from which many of these insights have, unfortunately, be excised. Werner Lange has agreed with the leaders of the Hansa Conference in Germany that the weekly contributions that he will provide during the coming quarter will be published in German and English on the conference website (see signet on Adventist Todayhas enthusiastically welcomed the possibility to also publish abstracts of these weekly articles on their website.

Werner will not present his own verse-by-verse interpretation of Revelation or produce a parallel study guide, but rather wants to show church members the approach whereby they can themselves discover the meaning of the visions of John the Revelator, and are able to judge whether a given interpretation does justice to the text and its context. He will also discuss dead-ends in interpretation and give some explanations to the text. His aim is that church members should no longer simply depend on pastors or evangelists, books or study guides, which present a ready explanation. He contends that the Revelation is easier to understand than many people think—provided that we approach it with the appropriate tools for its interpretation.

The first article already published is the text of a sermon, which would be well suited for church services on January 5 (pastors and other speakers can get the manuscript and the presentation in English from Werner; you can contact him per e-mail: Another article is a lecture on specific principles of interpretation for the Revelation, focusing especially on how to detect and apply the allusions to the Old Testament. The PDF’s may be downloaded from!Agfvhk0oak34jZBoDxAbbPJKmCC2JQ.

From December 30 onwards, Adventist Today will publish each Sunday a short article by Werner in which he gives some hints on the interpretational approach for the chapters in Revelation which are the theme of the Sabbath School lesson for that week, and discusses current Adventist interpretations. You can get each week a more thorough elaboration of the subject as a PDF.

I will assist Werner with the editing of the English text. I hope his work (and his considerable expertise with regard of the Book of Revelation), will be a blessing to many Adventists during the first quarter of 2019.  I call upon the readers of this blog to spread the news about the availability of this material through their use of the social media and by word-of-mouth. And maybe someone may be interested to translate the text into their own language. Werner welcomes this; he only asks to be informed so that the news about it can be spread on the website and otherwise.

PS. Readers who know the Dutch language may be interested in a correspondence course I wrote some years ago that deals with the Book of Revelation. It is available in digital form through the ESDA institute for Bible correspondence courses. See:

Are Sunday laws coming?

Since a few weeks the supermarket close to the apartment building where we live is open on Sundays. Sunday shopping has long been a hotly debated issue in local politics. Until recently the influence of the religious parties was strong enough to frustrate the attempts by the rest of the local council to allow all shops to be open on Sundays, if the shop owners so desire. At long last, things are changing in our village of some 22.000 inhabitants. As they have been gradually changing in most places in our traditionally Calvinist country.

In the Thursday issue of my daily newspaper (one of the Christian dailies of our country) I found an interesting article about Sunday observance in the USA. For a major percentage of the population in the USA the Sunday is rapidly losing its importance. Only one third of all American avoids paid work; for only ten percent shopping on Sunday remains taboo, and only six percent feels that Sunday observance is incompatible with visiting an amusement park.

There is an ever-deepening chasm between the reality of Sunday observance in today’s western world and the message that continues to be heard in some quarters of the Adventist Church, namely that we will soon have to face severe Sunday laws, which will force every citizen to keep the Sunday and will make life extremely difficult for those who insist on keeping the seventh-day Sabbath sacred. However, the expectation that in the end of time a universal Sunday law will be enforced by the civil authorities, upon the insistence of the public and at the demand of the “apostate” churches, seems to be more and more unrealistic. Admittedly, there are a few groups and organizations that continue to urge legislation to enforce strict Sunday observance, but in reality the overall trend is towards less, rather than more, strict Sunday keeping. In the western world the Sunday of church worship is rapidly being replaced by a Sunday of amusement and shopping, and by a day when people also want to see their packages with their on-line orders delivered.

Adventists must ask themselves: Does the Bible clearly predict a time when merciless Sunday laws will be enforced?  They will have to realize that this Sunday-law scenario is mainly based on the interpretation of the prophecies of the Revelation by Ellen White in her book The Great Controversy. For some this means that, against all present appearances, the Sunday laws are coming, because “she says so!” For others it means that Ellen White was wrong and that she is thereby disqualified as a prophetic beacon for the Adventist believers. For me, it means that many must revise their concept of inspiration.

Ellen White wrote her book The Great Controversyin the late nineteenth century, against the background of the circumstances that prevailed in the United States. Her world was divided between Roman Catholics and Protestants. She belonged to a tiny Adventist sect that was not welcome. She lived in a time when politicians at the state level and the national level were doing all they could to enforce Sunday observance. She experienced how in some states Sabbath keepers were actually put in prison!  However, her world no longer exists.  The underlying “grand narrative” of the “great controversy” between the forces of good and evil is as valid as ever before. But it plays out in vastly different ways in our secular society, that has a totally different religious and cultural composition. It is up to us to discern how this “great controversy” plays out in our twenty-first century western world.

The great challenge for Sabbath-keeping Adventists is not to keep talking about an end-time scenario that is increasingly implausible, but to convince their fellow-citizens that there is an immeasurable religious, social and health benefit in respecting the God-given six plus one rhythm in time. Man has been created with an internal clock and not to respect that will be to their own detriment. The Sabbath remains our best antidote against stress and burn-out and our best channel for regaining moral strength. It is the divinely ordained instrument to charge our spiritual batteries and to (re)connect with God and the people who are dear to us.

Let us not waste energy on trying to push an unrealistic  Sunday-law scenario, but promote and model a life in which the Sabbath-rest, that is part of God’s creation, holds center stage.

Answers to the real questions

Some twenty years ago I wrote the manuscript for a book that I gave the working title “The Challenge of Change.”  It dealt with the need for some substantial changes in the Adventist Church and outlined some areas where I felt those changes would be most needed. At the time it was tentatively accepted by one of the American Adventist publishers, but the plan was abandoned due to serious criticism from “above”.  I had almost forgotten about it, but when the topic of “change” emerged in a conversation I recently had with some church leaders in the domain of communications, I was encouraged to take another look at the manuscript, and update and revise it where necessary.

I am not very good in solving computer problems and when, after I had excavated the document from the recesses of the hard disk of my laptop, it took me a lot of effort to change the ancient Word Perfect format into something I could work with in the Word program that my Apple MacBook Air is able to handle, with footnotes and page number etc. in the right shape.  But, somehow, I succeeded and during the last month or so I spent a significant amount of time in updating, revising and (hopefully) improving what I wrote two decades ago. Last week ago I submitted the revised document to a publisher. At that point the customary waiting period begins: Will it be accepted for publication? If so, is the publisher happy with the text as it stands, or will there be a request for some changes or even for the rewriting of some sections?

However, during such a process of waiting I usually start on a new writing project. For some time I have toyed with the idea of writing a book on the theme of death and resurrection. I have been in dialogue with one of our Adventist publishers and have in principle been given the green light. I have provided a tentative outline and I have begun to work on some of the chapters that I have in mind.  Yet, there is one fundamental question that still needs to be clarified: Who are the intended readers?  Is it meant to be a book for Adventists mainly, or primarily for non-Adventists? That makes quite a difference.

Another important aspect is:  What are the topics and sub-topics I should deal with and in what order? As an Adventist pastor it is not difficult for me to opt for the traditional approach and determine what I feelthe readers need to know. But a person who had read the book proposal sent me a list with questions today’s people might have with regard to death and the hereafter, but that we seldom touch upon in Adventist publications on the topic.

Yesterday I was reading the draft of a chapter a PhD candidate in the USA had asked me to review. He wanted me to be one of his readers as he plows along. His subject has to do with the presence and witness of the church in an urban setting.  In the chapter that I read yesterday he emphasizes the need for the church to respond to actual questions, rather than give answers to questions we thinkthe people have or should have. And that will be my challenge also as I write my book about death and resurrection: What real questions do real people—religious and non-religious—have about this topic that affects all of us in such an existential way? Of course, it remains to be seen whether or not I have satisfying answers. The only thing I can promise is: I will do my level best.

PS. Of course, whenever we talk about our faith, the real questions of others (and not the questions we think they have, or should have), should be the starting point.