A Christian Reformed pastor, of Dutch descent (as her name clearly indicates), wrote about the attitude she believes the church members in her denomination should have with regard to the gay issue. Wendy VanderWal-Gritter gave her book the title: “Generous spaciousness.” This is, she argued passionately, the way Christians should treat others when they do not agree with their own standpoints. They must be “generous” in the “space” they will give one another in dealing with their differences.
I have more and more concluded that this is precisely what my church needs. And with the term “my church”, I refer to all levels of the Adventist denomination. I am a member of a small local church. I know that not all members agree with some of my opinions and with some of the things I say and write. But I appreciate immensely the fact that I sense a “generous spaciousness” rather than critical comments or hostility, because I am not as “orthodox” as some would like me to be. When I look at the Dutch Adventist Church in general, there are many elements that I like, but there are also quite a few places where I sense a definite lack when it concerns this “generous spaciousness.” And when I consider recent developments in worldwide Adventism—especially at the highest level of governance—I must regretfully conclude that this “generous spaciousness” is often sadly lacking.
My influence as a retired church worker is rather limited, certainly internationally. That is only natural. I had my last pay check as an active worker over a decade ago and no longer do I have the opportunity to attend meetings where I can mix with the leadership of the church. I am grateful for the opportunities I still have to travel extensively and preach and give presentations in many places. Earlier this month I preached in the United Kingdom and in Paris, and next Sabbath I am scheduled to be for a full day with the church in the Swedish city of Göteborg. And my books are still being read in many places around the world. However, I am realistic as far as the decreasing impact my activities have.
Recently, a few people have initiated a project in the Netherlands to stimulate a “generous spaciousness” in the Dutch Adventist Church. I have gladly agreed to support the project that has been started. On April 6 there will be a special program, hosted by one of the churches in the center of the country, that will focus on this “spaciousness.” The aim will be to make people around the country more aware of a few initiatives that already try to provide safe havens for free dialogue, where doubts may be expressed without fear of being criticized, and where new ideas as well as controversial issues can be freely discussed. For those who have found those safe havens, where they can experience “space”, this often is now the most meaningful link with their Adventist heritage. The aim of the new initiative is to strengthen these “safe” places and give more prominence to the quarterly vesper services, which provide a type of worship that is “normally” not readily available in the Adventist Church. But a further goal is also to explore ways of increasing the number of places that allow for “generous spaciousness.”
It is true that for some this idea of “spaciousness” is a threat. They want to strengthen the walls around their traditional ways of ”being church” and interpreting the Adventist message. They are afraid that a call for space is a call for the dilution of Truth. I do my best to understand their concerns. I want to also extend “space” to them. But, somehow, they must come to see that far too many members—young and older—are drifting away from our church, because they can no longer breathe in the nineteenth century air of their church environment. They want to open the windows and want breathing space as they think, pray and live their faith.
Come to Leusden on April 6. Asschatterweg 1, Leusden. For further information see my EXTRA Dutch blog of MARCH 19. Google Translate will give you the info you need to know.