The Adventist World Church has long had the tradition of choosing a motto for every five-year period. This is then announced at the General Conference session during a special program. This year the tradition is in some disarray, because the world congress that was to be held in Indianapolis in a few weeks’ time has been postponed due to the Covic-19 pandemic and will now take place in a reduced form from 20 to 25 May 2021. But during the Spring Meeting of the world executive committee, which recently took place via Zoom, it was decided to go ahead with the launch of the motto for the Church for the next five years. This will now be done through all available media of the Church during the weekend of 3-4 July.
The new theme (motto or slogan-I don’t know which word is most appropriate) is: Reach the World: I Will Go. When I heard it, these words didn’t immediately strike me as very inspiring. After the slogan Total Member Involvement of the past five years, the new theme does not sound all that innovative.
By the way, choosing a motto for a church does raise some questions for me, and that applies especially to themes like Total Member Involvement and Reach the World: I Will Go. First of all, I wonder whether a faith community needs such slogans. I don’t know of any denomination in the European context that regularly chooses a new theme. For me, it looks a bit too much like a political organization that wants to do well in the next elections or a chain of stores that wants to try a new shopping formula in the next season.
Still, I have a more important objection, namely that the themes the church has often chosen, including this new slogan, are very action-oriented. What is the idea behind Total Member Involvement? Of course, that all church members actively participate in ‘missionary’ activities and do everything possible to share the Adventist message with others. And Reach the World: I Will Go has that same goal. As a church member I can hardly object to this objective. But it always follows pretty much the same pattern. And whether it has much effect is, of course, a completely different matter. As far as I know that has never been seriously investigated.
For me, the main question is: What does the church need most at this moment in its history? An appeal to to the members to become more active? To make greater efforts, individually and collectively, to spread the ‘three-angels message’ and to promote the key Adventist beliefs? Or does it, most of all, need to reflect on the question of what Adventists actually have to tell the world around them in this day and age? Shouldn’t we, before we ‘go out’ (whatever that may actually mean), know what that ‘three-angels message’ could mean for ourselves and for other post-modern people of the twenty-first century?
The Adventist Church has always been strongly action-oriented. In my opinion, this has mainly to do with the fact that the church originated in a North American context and still has strong American traits. The American mentality is not primarily a think-mentality but rather a do-mentality. Utilitarianism was one of the important philosophical currents to become popular in the United States. It is about striving to achieve things that are useful for as many people as possible.
A large part of today’s Protestant missionary activities in the world are still organized and financed from America. The unprecedented number of ‘independent ministries’ in Adventism can probably also be explained against that American background. The gospel demands action! The question many people ask: what can I do to realize a particular evangelistic activity? What does it cost and how much manpower do I need? And so, many an independent ministry is born.
This action-oriented character has certainly contributed enormously to the growth of the Adventist Church. And I will be the last person to say that being a Christian and choosing to be a Christian-within-a-particular-faith-community does not require active commitment. But at the same time, I am convinced that the Adventist Church has reached a critical point in its development. At present church growth through the recruitment of new members is not its highest priority. What is needed above all is reflection on how the Adventist faith tradition can once again become ‘present truth’ (to use a classical term). How can this tradition be shaped and articulated in such a way that we all want to be ‘involved’ with a renewed enthusiasm, and how can we have a clearer idea of what we want to pass on to ‘the world’. The call to ‘go out into the world’ and share our faith with others is not enough. Anyone who wants to propagate his/her faith must have a clear vision of what that belief could mean and do for post-Christian people in the Western world in 2020. Reflection on that topic is what the church needs. My hope is, and remains, that my church will choose that direction: reflection before, or at least simultaneously with, activity.