Last week I was in what until 1989 was referred to as the DDR or Eastern Germany. I stayed a few days in a small village (Zwochau), a half-hour car ride from the main railway station in Leipzig, where—after a comfortable train journey of almost seven hours—I was met by the secretary of the conference of the Adventist churches in the northeastern part of Germany.
I was invited to give a number of presentations for the circa 65 Adventist pastors who work in this part of Germany. Almost all were also originally from this part that of the country that was ‘East-Germany’. If there is any difference in mentality and general approach to things in comparison to pastors in the west of the (now united) country, I did not discover this!
I was listed for three parts of the program. In my first presentation I gave a survey of the most important theological and ethical issues that are being discussed and cause a significant diversity of opinion in the Adventist world. I had drawn up a list of some sixteen subjects that Adventists talk about and are quite divided about, and then gave special attention to the four underlying basic issues: (a) What is truth? Is there something like absolute Trust? (b) Hermeneutics: How do we read the Bible? (c) Authority: Who tells us what to believe? and (d) Identity; who can claim to be a ‘real’ Adventist?
In the second presentation I focused on the role of doctrine. Why do we have doctrines? Hoe many do we need? How many of the 28 Fundamental Beliefs must one accept before we may be baptized? Or to be, and remain, a church member? I also dealt with the question whether all doctrines are equally important, and, if not, how we might grade them. This lecture, in particular, led to intense discussion, in which many examples from actual church praxis were mentioned.
And, finally, in my third presentation the spotlight was on the question how our doctrines can be—or can be made to be—relevant. What difference does it make in my daily life whether I believe certain things? How can I, as a minister, translate our message in such a way that what I say relates to actual life? This also led to much discussion.
All in all it was a full and stimulating week. I was back home just in time to attend, on Friday, the funeral of Pierre van Vollenhoven. In his long working life Pierre had a number of important functions in the Dutch Adventist Church, e.g. 12 years as union treasurer. I worked closely with him for extended periods of time, and I would have regretted not to be at his farewell.
Then I had a ‘free’ Sabbath. I had made sure that I was not scheduled to preach somewhere, to that I could listen in my home church, Harderwijk, to a great sermon by my Belgian colleague and good friend, dr. Rudy van Moere. It was an inspiring morning! His sermon was a sublime example of a combination of deep knowledge of the Scriptures and pastoral concern.
And now, on Sunday morning, I am preparing for a stay of some days in a small place in Germany, somewhere between Darmstadt and Frankfurt, where in the next few days I will join others in talking and thinking about the theme of homosexuality, and, more specifically, about ways in which this topic may be fruitfully explained and discussed in the Adventist Church. It is an annual conference of some leaders of Kinship—the organization of, and for, (mostly Adventist) people with a ‘different’ sexual orientation—with a few dozen people mean and women who have some influence in the church in Western-Europe and support the Kinship mission. I am certainly among the supporters, but whether I continue to have any influence may be more questionable! Anyway, I am glad I have been invited.
I look forward to the next few days with great interest and hope I can in some way contribute to the conference!